Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: synagogue

The fulness of the time

hourglass-2846643_640

Solomon’s reign was the golden era of Israel. All the promises of God were fulfilled in the natural sense. The son of David built the glorious temple and God showed His acceptance by sending fire from heaven to consume the sacrifices. Solomon’s reign was a reign of peace over all the territory promised by God to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. News of the wisdom and wealth of Solomon spread everywhere.

Israel never again regained the glory it had known in Solomon’s time. The kingdom was divided, there followed good kings and bad kings, the people often tended to idolatry. Through it all there remained a belief that this land had been given them by God and the temple remained the spiritual focal point of the people of God.

Finally the accumulation of disobedience and sin was too much and God permitted the people to be taken into captivity and the temple to be destroyed. The prophets had foretold this devastation, but they also told of a time of restoration. Often these promises included the Gentiles in God’s plan.

The people returned from Babylon, rebuilt Jerusalem and rebuilt the temple. According to the Babylonian Talmud, the new temple lacked five things found in Solomon’s temple: the Ark of the Covenant; the sacred fire sent from God to consume the sacrifices; the Shekinah or pillar of smoke and fire showing God’s presence; the spirit of holiness (or prophecy); the Urim and Thummin by which God had made known His will. Yet the temptation to worship the gods of the heathen was gone and the true worship of God was restored.

Zerubbabel was the first governor after the return from Babylon. He was of the lineage of David, but could not be king because Judah was now a vassal state of Persia. The lineage of David’s descendants was faithfully recorded in expectation of the day when a son of David would again sit on the throne. Shortly after the return, the canon of Old Testament Scripture was completed with the inclusion of the histories recorded by Ezra and the prophecies of the last prophets.

The destruction of the temple had left a void in the worship system of the Jewish people. Synagogues appeared during or shortly after the Babylonian exile and have continued ever since. There is no command in the OT for weekly worship, nor instruction on how to organize or conduct such meetings. Synagogue is a Greek word that does not appear in the Old Testament, except in Psalm 74:8 of the AV where it is used to translate a Hebrew word. The synagogue was a place for weekly meetings on the Sabbath day when the Scriptures were read and expounded.

Other events happened on the world stage that caused great distress to the Jewish people. Alexander the Great conquered a territory extending from Greece and Macedonia south to Egypt and eastward to northern India and Afghanistan. He established many new cities in the conquered territories, all named Alexandria. Kandahar, Afghanistan was one of those cities and appears to retain some trace of his name. Trade throughout the empire was stimulated and Greek became the common language of trade. Upon Alexander’s death, his empire was divided in three and ongoing wars between the competing empires often involved battles for control of Judah.

During this time, Jewish leaders saw the need for a Bible in the Greek language and 70 scholars gathered in Alexandria, Egypt to make this translation. This is called the translation of the seventy, or Septuagint, and is the Bible quoted by Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament.

The next great empire to rise was Rome. Julius Caesar conquered southern Europe, including Greece, and extended the empire as far south as Egypt. The Greek language remained the international language of commerce throughout the Roman Empire. Rome added something new that enhanced trade and travel — a well-developed road system connecting all parts of the empire and rigorous law enforcement that made trade and travel much safer than ever before.

Now the “fulness of time” had come. The stage was set for the appearance of the Messiah, the true Son of David who would establish an eternal spiritual kingdom that would never end. This was not the Messiah the Jewish leadership was looking for, yet the evidence was all there in the OT prophecies for those who could see. Now was the time for the fulfilment of the salvation of which the OT sacrifices had only been a symbol and for the blood of the spotless Lamb of God to sprinkle the heavenly mercy seat.

When this was done and the earthly temple and kingdom had again been taken out of the way, the good news of salvation could be carried to people throughout the Roman Empire. A common language existed, there was a translation of the Old Testament Scriptures in that language and a protected road system to facilitate travel. A system of weekly meetings for reading and expounding the Scriptures in the synagogues became the familiar model for worship services of the early church.

So many events, which had seemed to be meaningless tragedies at the time, are now seen as the hand of God preparing the way for the coming of His Son into the world, the spread of the gospel and the establishment of the church.

(First posted in November of 2013)

Introduction to the books of the Old Testament

The Torah, all five books written by Moses
Genesis – Describes the Creation, its beauty and goodness, and then its corruption when our first parents fell for the deception of the serpent. The first promise of a Saviour is in the third chapter where it is said that the seed of the woman will bruise the head of the serpent. The call of Abraham, his (almost) sacrifice of his son, a type of what God would do. Jacob’s prophecy that “Shiloh” would come through the line of Judah.

Exodus – The descendents of Jacob are slaves in Egypt and God calls an eighty-year-old man who had never properly learned the Hebrew language to be God’s messenger to lead them out of captivity.

Leviticus – A very detailed description of what loving God and loving our neighbour should look like.

Numbers – A record of God’s longsuffering with His people during the 40 years in the wilderness when they tested Him is so many ways.

Deuteronomy – Almost all the adult males who came out of Egypt have died in the wilderness and there is a new generation. Moses recapitulates God’s dealings with His people and His plan for them in preparation for entering the Promised Land.

The Former Prophets
Joshua – Probably mostly written by Joshua himself. Moses, representative of the law, could not enter the Promised Land. Joshua is the same name as Jesus, and means salvation of the Lord. He led the people across Jordan and then led them in the conquest of the land, with many miraculous interventions by God, and then divided the land among the tribes. “There failed not ought of any good thing which the LORD had spoken unto the house of Israel; all came to pass” (Joshua 21.45).

Judges – Written by Samuel. Before the New Testament era the Holy Spirit was given to only a few people. This book is a record of the ups and downs of the spiritual and material prosperity of God’s people, largely dependent on what kind of leadership they had

1 Samuel – Written by Samuel. God raised up a spiritual leader who was not of the Levitical priesthood. During his ministry the Ark of the Covenant was not in the Tabernacle of Moses. Samuel ignored the tabernacle, established places of sacrifices throughout the land and appears to have made them a one year circuit. His ministry brought spiritual unity and stability to Israel.

2 Samuel – Most likely written by Nathan and Gad, David’s seers. The story of King David, a man after God’s own heart. He was as much a spiritual leader as a political leader, with the heart of a shepherd.

1 Kings – The work of Jeremiah, possibly written by his secretary, Baruch. The glory of Solomon’s kingdom, which was the earthly fulfilment of God’s promises to Israel. The division of the kingdom after his death and the apostasy of the northern kingdom. The ministry of Elijah to the apostate northern kingdom to point them back to God.

2 Kings – Also written by Jeremiah, probably aided by Baruch. The continuing history of the divided kingdoms. Many godly kings in Judah, the southern kingdom, and others who fell into idolatry so that the land became polluted with idols. Continuing apostasy in Israel, the northern kingdom, with some partial revivals. The ministry of Elisha in Israel; the people finally taken into captivity. The last six verses of 2 Kings are identical to the last six verses of Jeremiah.

The Latter Prophets
Isaiah – written by Isaiah. His ministry lasted for 60 years, covering the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Asa, Hezekiah and into the reign of Manasseh. Filled with prophecies of judgement for the unfaithful and wicked and the promise of the Messiah, the suffering servant.

Jeremiah – written by Jeremiah. His ministry began during the revival during the reign of King Josiah and continued through the time of spiritual collapse until the captivity. He was then carried away to Egypt by rebellious Jews and continued to prophesy there for a few more years. The theme of his book is a last minute warning of God’s impeding judgement.

Ezekiel – Written in Babylon by Ezekiel. The people of God now had no king, no country, no temple to continue their system of worship. Ezekiel was a priest and others came to him looking for spiritual direction. Synagogue is a Greek word meaning congregation or assembly; there is no instruction ever given for the organization of such a worship system, but this is probably how it began. Ezekiel pays little attention to the political situation, but speaks of hope for a spiritual restoration, when the Lord Himself will be the shepherd of His people (chapter 34).

-to be continued

Not a scary book

When Howard was converted, he knew there were a lot of differing ideas out there about what the Bible said. So, every time he sat down to read the Bible, he would pray first and ask God to help him understand correctly. When I met him some years later it was evident that God had honoured those prayers. Unfortunately, Howard also clearly understood that by the time I met him he was living in sin that the Bible condemned, and didn’t know what to do about it, or perhaps more correctly, didn’t want to know.

Still, if you find the Bible intimidating, prayer would be a good place to start. Understanding isn’t enough, though, as Howard had discovered. It would also be a good idea to pray after you read the Bible and ask God to help you be obedient to as much as you understood from His Word.

bible-1868359_640

God didn’t intend for the Bible to be a scary book. Can I say it that way? What I mean is that there should be times when the Bible speaks to us in a way that will frighten us out of our complacency and lukewarmness, but most of the time we will find it the most fascinating book we have ever read. It tells us that our life has a meaning, that God loves us, wants to have a conversation with us and has always battled the unseen powers that are against us.

Perhaps a little introduction to the structure of the Bible will help demystify it. The Old Testament began with Moses and reached its completion in the days of Ezra. Jewish synagogues still have the books of the Old Testament written on scrolls and those scrolls are arranged a little differently than how the same books appear in our Bibles. It may interest you to know that arrangement and the reasons behind it.

bible-3524065_640

The Jewish Scriptures are divided in three: first the Torah, the teachings, or the law – the books of Moses; then the Nevi’im, the Prophets; and lastly the Ketuvim (Writings). All together, they are referred to as the TaNaKh, an acronym of the first letters of each section.

When the New Testament refers to the law and the prophets it is referring collectively to the first two groups of scrolls. “It is written in the prophets” means that it is found somewhere in the group of scrolls called the Prophets.
Here are the divisions, I will elaborate a little more in the posts that follow:

Torah, or Law:
Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, all written by Moses.

The Prophets:
The former prophets: Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings
The latter prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the Twelve (the minor prophets).

The Writings
Poetry and wisdom literature: Psalms, Proverbs, Job
History: Daniel, Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah
Five special scrolls: Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther.

You probably noticed that the books called the former prophets are books we think of as history and that the book of Daniel is grouped with the history scrolls rather than the prophets.

One other interesting point is that the last five scrolls listed were each read every year, and still are in synagogues, at specific festivals. The Song of Solomon was read at Passover; Ruth at Pentecost; Lamentations on the eve of the ninth of Av to commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem; Ecclesiastes at the feast of Tabernacles; and Esther at Purim, the festival commemorating the deliverance of the Jews in Persia that is described in Esther.

The Sabbath

God instituted a day of rest per week, because, after six days of toil the human body and brain need rest. That’s makes good sense, doesn’t it? Except that the Bible says nothing like that.

What we find in the Bible is that God completed all the work of creation in six days and then rested on the seventh day. There is no hint that on the first day of the following week God picked up his lunch bucket, punched the time clock, and began another week of work. His work was finished from the foundation of the world (Hebrews 4:3).

The seventh day was the beginning of a never ending rest for God and the promise to us is that we can enter into that rest. The once a week Sabbath was commanded as a memorial and as a foretaste of the spiritual rest that would become available through the Messiah.

Unfortunately, the human mind finds it much easier to grasp the idea of physical rest than of spiritual rest. We have been aided in this by the reasoning of Greek philosophers and their followers in the churches.

The fourth commandment decrees that all labour cease on the Sabbath, but it gives no hint that this was because of the need of our bodies for physical and mental rest. The purpose of the Sabbath was to separate people from earthly cares so they could contemplate eternal realities. The New Testament makes it clear that the labour that must cease is our futile attempts to earn salvation.

In Matthew 11:28-29, Jesus invites us to cease our labours, lay down our burdens and He will give us rest for our souls. Hebrews 11:1-10 is an invitation to cease from our labours and enter into God’s rest, the Sabbath. “For he that is entered into his rest, he also hath ceased from his own works, as God did from his” (Hebrews 4:10).

We enter into that rest when we are born again. We know God as our Father and we are assured that He knows us as His child. He fills us with love, joy, peace and all the fruit of the spirit. He guides us, comforts us and helps us in all the troubles we face in life.

We are no longer anxious about food, clothing, or the health of our body. Our Father knows what we need and He will provide (Matthew 6:25-34). We should not take that as meaning we are now exempt from physical labour, that is still necessary and good for us. But we need no longer be burdened by worry and care as to how it will all turn out.

We have entered into the Sabbath, not a day on our earthly calendars, but a time that will continue to the end of time and into eternity. Spiritual realities now take priority over material realities. We need not worry about our status in the eyes of other people, what matters is that we are a child of God, surrounded by His love.

Living in the Sabbath also requires us to forgive others, hold no grudges, not to favour one person above another, but to see others as God sees them. Some are God’s children, God wants them all to be His children and so should we.

God gave the prophet Isaiah a beautiful picture of the right way to fast and to observe the Sabbath. Does any of this sound like something that one ought to do on certain occasions only, or one day a week? Doesn’t it rather portray the New Testament kingdom of God when God’s children will live the Sabbath every day?

“Is not this the fast that I have chosen? to loose the bands of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, and to let the oppressed go free, and that ye break every yoke? Is it not to deal thy bread to the hungry, and that thou bring the poor that are cast out to thy house? when thou seest the naked, that thou cover him; and that thou hide not thyself from thine own flesh? Then shall thy light break forth as the morning, and thine health shall spring forth speedily: and thy righteousness shall go before thee; the glory of the LORD shall be thy rereward. Then shalt thou call, and the LORD shall answer; thou shalt cry, and he shall say, Here I am. If thou take away from the midst of thee the yoke, the putting forth of the finger, and speaking vanity; And if thou draw out thy soul to the hungry, and satisfy the afflicted soul; then shall thy light rise in obscurity, and thy darkness be as the noonday: and the LORD shall guide thee continually, and satisfy thy soul in drought, and make fat thy bones: and thou shalt be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not. And they that shall be of thee shall build the old waste places: thou shalt raise up the foundations of many generations; and thou shalt be called, the repairer of the breach, the restorer of paths to dwell in. If thou turn away thy foot from the sabbath, from doing thy pleasure on my holy day; and call the sabbath a delight, the holy of the LORD, honourable; and shalt honour him, not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words: then shalt thou delight thyself in the LORD; and I will cause thee to ride upon the high places of the earth, and feed thee with the heritage of Jacob thy father: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. (Isaiah 58:6-14).

The fourth commandment does not give any instruction for gathering for worship one day a week. In the Old Testament era there were only three annual festivals when all adult males should assemble for worship in Jerusalem.

Neither is there instruction in the Old Testament for establishing synagogues and holding one day a week worship services. It was a tradition that appears to have begun during the Babylonian captivity, and it was a good tradition. Christians have adopted that tradition and the weekly worship has become the primary source of sustaining our spiritual life. It is not a law written on tablets of stone, but it should be a law written on our hearts that we would want to gather where and when spiritual nourishment is being served.

%d bloggers like this: