Raised for a time such as this – the example of Hadassah

We read through the Book of Esther for Purim yesterday.

Despite having read or listened to the entire Bible at least 20 times over the last 10+ years, there is always a number of new insights (or perhaps restored (i.e. had forgot, now remember!) ones.
I saw a few in the Book of Esther yesterday.
One of the great quotes of wisdom in Esther is this:
“ For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther 4:14

I think this is a universal principle.

We are all given at least one, if not many unique opportunities in life to make a positive and significant difference. This situation (or situations) occurs where there is seemingly no-one else available to stand up and be counted, yet it always seems the situation requires a serious stepping out of our comfort zone, and most likely some serious risk to our job, our reputation, or relationships, or even our very freedoms.How many times might we even baulk and fail to make a stand. Yet the Almighty is most gracious. I believe He gives us another, and another, chance to show our true heart, to show that we really are His children, with His desire to see justice and mercy prevail.

And at the same time, the Almighty being all-powerful does not need us to make the stand, as He can always find another way. It is we who benefit, and perhaps as Mordechai states to Hadassah (Esther) here, perhaps we too face some serious negative consequences if we don’t ‘step up to the plate’.
So how do we prepare ourselves for this momentous times of challenge and times when we really grow to be all we were created to be. Hadassah had a challenging upbringing. Surely this helped her prepare for this moment. But she was also brought up in a household that clearly honoured the Almighty and sort to live by His Instructions (Torah), to be kind, respectful, gracious and holy. Surely this God-fearing environment helped her come to this moment in time and helped her to be ready to heed the call.
Another intriguing aspect that stood out was how the night before Queen Hadassah was to meet with her King and the evil Hamman, the King (perhaps under the subtle influence of the King of the Universe) could not sleep. With no TV and little other forms of entertainment, he decides to read the ‘Chronicles of the Kings’ (essentially the diary of the daily life of the King and his Kingdom).
Here he reads of the event where Mordechai saved him from the evil intentions of Bigthana and Teresh, two of the Kings eunuchs. This leads to the ‘tables being turned’ on Haman, who having expected to get a great blessing has to instead bestow it on Mordechai, a man who, as a result of Haman’s arrogance, he despises. What a sweet narrative for us to read – the good guy prevails!
And then note how, when Hadassah points the finger at the evil Haman, the King, rather than making a very hasty decision walks off into the garden to ponder the accusation and his response.
He must surely have been torn between his ‘right-hand’ man who had been for sometime his most loyal and trusted deputy, and this Mordechai whom he didn’t really know, but whom he had just ‘delighted to honour’.
So while the King paces in the garden, Hamman now recognizing out perilous his position has suddenly become, pleads profusely with Hadassah, to the point it appears of either getting on the couch with her or perhaps kneeling at her feet and laying his hands on her as he pleads for his life. The King re-enters and see’s Hamman before ‘forward’ with the Queen and assumes that he is in some way assaulting her.
… And the king said, “Will he even assault the queen in my presence, in my own house?” Esther 7:8
 
And notice how quick the eunuch Harbona, presumably one of the Queen’s attendees is quick to stand up for her and state to the King that Haman had made some gallows with which he had planned to hang Mordechai, that could now be used against Haman. Perhaps this eunuch was more prepared to make a stand himself because he was witness to the good character and God-fearing nature of Hadassah.
This is a great story!
 If you haven’t already read it this Purim, I recommend finding the time to do so, and especially, if possible do it in company.

Marriage – Making It Work

Life IS school. We are always in school, we just don’t know it!

Our entire life lies before us as a great unwritten but very well designed curriculum, designed and presented by the greatest Teacher and Educator of all, the Almighty Himself!

Every day, the good, the bad and the ugly comes our way to help mold us (if we are willing), to be the unique people God intended us to be. This ‘curriculum’ is daily before us whether we consciously choose to engage with it or not. It is impacting our lives, and hopefully in a positive manner, whether we acknowledge it or not.

But learning of this ‘curriculum’ and being aware of its daily teachings can make the path to completing it, both smoother and quicker.

Surely, if we all realized we were in ‘school’ and working on a curriculum designed by the world’s best Educator (God Himself), to lead us to be the best person we could be, and that we were designed to be, wouldn’t we want to complete the curriculum as quickly and effectively as possible!?

jinni

Almost every character trait that defines humanity is in every person. Every single person has some character traits that they find more problematic than others, and that they need to work on more than others. We should not see these traits that we struggle with as bad or wrong or sinful, but as traits that need addressing so that ultimately they become under our control, and in the proper balance. As part of our personally and individually designed ‘curriculum’, the great Educator presents ‘lessons’, ‘tests’, and ‘practical projects’ to us, every single day, that we can embrace and learn from and move toward our ultimate successful ‘graduation’ as the full embodiment of the unique individual we were designed to be.

Or we can ignore the ‘lesson’, ‘test’ or ‘practical project’, and fail to grow, but instead be presented with the same maddening lesson over and over again, by the most patient and caring Educator ever!

For example, the person who appears in general to be an extremely angry person, still has some moments of calm and some circumstances in which he/she has control over that anger. But also the calmest person has some degree of anger in him/her, and some circumstances that really test his or her peace and serenity.

Anger can be bad, yet anger at injustice helps motivate us to try to correct that injustice. Thus, the character trait of ‘anger’ is not all bad, but rather a positive character trait when harnessed in the proper manner and at the right time.

What about the character trait of ‘lust’, especially ‘sexual lust’ (The person who has a ‘lust for life’ is simply a positive person with passion to embrace their life curriculum)?

A man with unbridled lusting for a women not his wife, is clearly acting in a sinful manner (it is breaking the 10th Commandment – … do not covet – lust after – your neighbour’s wife …), yet this very Commandment implies that a man should lust after his own wife!

acs-dinner-pic

What! Really? Why weren’t we men taught this? When we were teenage boys with raging hormones, why weren’t we taught that sexual lust was such a positive commandment of God (when directed at the appropriate object of desire)?

Why, when lust or intense desire is the true secret to a successful marriage.

A marriage where that intense desire for each other is recognized and knowingly cultivated and maintained is a marriage that will survive (and without being sexist, this should start and be led by the man).

Isn’t that what we all want? Surely the secret to a successful marriage can not be this simple?!

Yet, I believe it is.

I have read a great many books on marriage (and divorce). I have been to hell and back. I have been challenged to the very core of my existence. I have been suicidal. I have felt totally betrayed, full of despair. My world has seemed lost and bleak. My heart has been broken, and broken and broken.

But miracle of miracles, I have come out the other side. I have grown, I have submitted to my God and sought His direction (which was hugely challenging and totally counter-intuitive). He led me through the valley of death and out the other side. So after a great deal of pain and many years of heartache, searching and reading I eventually found what I believe is the very best book ever on how to make marriage work.

It is Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s Kosher Lust: Love is not the Answer’. In this book, Rabbi Boteach explains how and why ‘true love’ is not the answer but lust is.

When men lust for their wives, and act on this lust in the proper way, almost any marriage can be made whole.

Read his book and then help others by sharing its message.

For more on the issue of life’s curriculum and character traits please see my blog post You Shall Be Holyhttp://wp.me/p2HSTx-7C

 

Turn The Other Cheek

As part of the famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’, we read that Yeshua said to ‘turn the other check’:

“You have heard that our fathers were told, ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you not to stand up against someone who does you wrong. On the contrary, if someone hits you on the right cheek, let him hit you on the left cheek too! – Matthew 5:38-39 (CJB)

While the ‘eye for an eye’ passage in the Tanakh (see Exodus 21:24; Leviticus 24:20; and Deuteronomy 19:21) is well known, I believe it is seriously misunderstood, as I explain in my An Eye for an Eye or Measure for Measure[1].

However, I wish to focus on the ‘turn the other check’ teaching.

The brilliant Professor David Flusser, in my opinion, had perhaps the most intimate and accurate understanding of the Yeshua ben Yosef that anyone has had, since the First Century of the Common Era.

Flusser argued that all of Yeshua’s teaching could be found in the Tanakh or other earlier Jewish writings (while not trying in any way to diminish the power and authority of Yeshua’s words). For example he wrote: From ancient Jewish writings we could easily construct a whole Gospel without using a single word that originated with Jesus.”[2]

Yet, it is not always easy to verify Flusser’s argument.

Some are very subtle. For example Yeshua states in Mathew 23:23a: Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. …”.

It may not be obvious to all but I believe he was quoting Micah 6:8 here which states that: “He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?[3]” – NKJV

But what of this ‘turn the other cheek’ teaching and effectively to bless those who curse you? Or as Yeshua added: “If someone wants to sue you for your shirt, let him have your coat as well!”. That is, if someone is taking something precious from you, do not fight this, but bless them even more! Well the prophet Jeremiah shares a very similar message to the Babylonian exiles when they first arrive in Babylon.

I had not seen this message. At least I don’t recall it sinking in in the many, many times I have read Jeremiah 29. This may be because this chapter goes on to offer a couple of real gems that I have often focussed on.

It is in Jeremiah 29 that we read: For I know what plans I have in mind for you,’ says Adonai, ‘plans for well-being, not for bad things; so that you can have hope and a future.”Jer 29:11

And one of my all-time favourites: You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” – Jer 29:13

But recently I was listening to Prof. Cynthia Chapman narrate her book ‘The World of Biblical Israel’, when she alluded to this very chapter and portion:

1 These are the words of the letter that Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders of the exiles, and to the priests, the prophets, and all the people, whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon.
This was after King Jeconiah and the queen mother, the eunuchs, the officials of Judah and Jerusalem, the craftsmen, and the metal workers had departed from Jerusalem.
The letter was sent by the hand of Elasah the son of Shaphan and Gemariah the son of Hilkiah, whom Zedekiah king of Judah sent to Babylon to Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. It said:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:
Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce.
Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.
For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are among you deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams that they dream,
for it is a lie that they are prophesying to you in my name; I did not send them, declares the Lord.

10 “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.
11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.
12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you.
13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”
– Jeremiah 29:1-14

She explained that the God of Israel had, through His prophet Jeremiah told these people who had just wept bitterly beside the rivers of Babylon and even promised to bring evil upon their captors. We read of their pain and anger in Psalm 137: 1. By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept as we remembered Zion … 8 Daughter of Babylon, you will be destroyed! A blessing on anyone who pays you back for the way you treated us! 9 A blessing on anyone who seizes your babies and smashes them against a rock!”

Yet, here’s Jeremiah telling them to bless these sons and daughters of Babylon, their captors. To repeat, he turns the whole attitude around and calls them to “… seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” 

If this isn’t ‘turning the other cheek’; ‘going the extra mile’ and giving ‘not just your shirt but your coat as well’ then I don’t know what is!

And how did it all turn out? Just as prophesied they returned some 70 years later and were very much supported by the Babylonians to do so.

Not only this; but a great many stayed on in Babylonia, and it became a great centre for Jewish learning for centuries to come. It is in fact the Babylonian Talmud that has been the main source of Jewish jurisprudence for the entire Diaspora until the last century (rather than the Jerusalem Talmud[4]).

So this ‘turning the other cheek’ turned out to be a good thing for the exiled Jewish people, and helped to fulfil the promise that God had “… plans for (their) welfare and not for evil,” and to give them “… a future and a hope”. 

Update:

A friend and fellow Bible student directed me to Lamentations 3:28-30

“28 Let him sit alone in silence when he has laid it on him. 
29 Let him submit absolutely; there may yet be hope. 
30 Let him offer his (other) cheek to the one who strikes it and receive his fill of insults.” (CJB)

When Yeshua was confronted in the garden, arrested and taken before his accusers, he did indeed heed his own advice and remain silent, not reacting to their insults and aggression.

Yeshua’s ‘turn the other check’ teaching, is clearly a teaching from this very passage in Lamentations.
[1] http://circumcisedheart.info/measureformeasure.pdf

[2] For detail see http://circumcisedheart.info/The%20Times%20of%20Yeshua.pdf

[3] To ‘walk humbly with your God’ is to trust Him to provide, and therefore to walk with quiet assurance in His Instructions. This is true ‘faithfulness’.

[4] Dr. David Neiman explains this is fascinating detail in his ‘The Jews in History’.

The New Testament: The Hebrew Behind the Greek

This book has just been extensively updated.

It presents the argument that much, if not most of the New Testament was originally written in Hebrew, not Greek, and that the quotes of the Tanakh (OT), which are almost all thought to be from the Septuagint (LXX) are much more likely to have been from a Hebrew version, very similar to the Masoretic Text (MT).

The book is available of Amazon as a Kindle download or free as a pdf at my circumcisedheart.info site

The link below is to an audio introduction to this book:
Audio Introduction

 

Finding Happy

I have 100 free registrations for my course ‘The Ten Happiness Principles’ to give away this week.

This course gives a presentation on the top 10 Principles which can lead you to a conscious, consistent and enduring sense of peace and joy as you go about your everyday life.

This is NOT a religious course pushing my doctrinal positions, but a very practical course involving 11 very short lectures followed by some practical activities to test out for yourself.

The Principles are Biblically-based, in that they can all find support in the Bible, but this course is all about what you do day to day, NOT what you may or may not believe about God, the World, Salvation, etc.

This course is primarily based on the research and wisdom of Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and the writings of one of Harvard’s all-time most popular psychology lecturers, Tal Ben-Shahar. But it also has very solid support from Neurological Research – for example, I strongly recommend the work of Dr Jeffrey M Schwartz (see for example his great book ‘The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force’), along with a number of others such as Professor Michael Egnor and Dr Carol Dweck.

Give it a try – you have nothing to lose and possibly much to gain!

After a presentation on each principle some simple tasks are suggested to help exercise the principle and with repeated practice over a short period of time these tasks can become part of your daily routine.

Each Principle is presented in 5-10 minute segments with the whole course taking around 1 hour. While you may want to go through the whole course in one sitting, it is recommended that you address each Principle one at a time and spend a week working on the related tasks. With this recommended approach the course will take some 10 Weeks to complete.

By working through this course and doing the follow-up exercises you can expect to see your general sense of well-being and happiness improve in some tangible way. 

By appreciating the underlying concepts and learning the pro-active tasks that create new neural pathways to solidify the skills/thinking involved you will be able to make permanent and positive changes to your world. To repeat, this course gives a presentation on the top 10 Principles which can lead you to a conscious, consistent and enduring sense of peace and joy as you go about your everyday life.

Access the free coupon for the course here – https://www.udemy.com/the-ten-happiness-principles/?couponCode=Happy4Free

 

Hosea on Israel’s relationship with the Almighty

In an article by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks posted this week (April 16th 2015), he makes some references to the prophet Hosea. In reading this article I was again reminded of the many references in the Tanakh that declare that HaShem never really left His Chosen People, the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but rather separated Himself from them at times, arguably as part of His loving discipline.

Hosea makes it very clear that the the ‘betrothal’, the marriage relationship between YHVH and Israel is an eternal one, that YHVH is and will always be the Husband of Israel.

Here are some excerpts from the article that help clarify this point:

“The inner history of humanity is in part the history of the idea of love. And at some stage a new idea makes its appearance in biblical Israel. We can trace it best in a highly suggestive passage in the book of one of the great prophets of the Bible, Hosea.

Hosea lived in the eighth century BCE. The kingdom had been divided since the death of Solomon.  The northern kingdom in particular, where Hosea lived, had lapsed after a period of peace and prosperity into lawlessness, idolatry and chaos. Between 747 and 732 BCE there were no less than five kings, the result of a series of intrigues and bloody struggles for power. The people, too, had become lax:
“There is no faithfulness or kindness, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing, lying, killing, stealing and committing adultery; they break all bounds and murder follows murder” (Hos. 4: 1-2).

Like other prophets, Hosea knew that Israel’s destiny depended on its sense of mission. Faithful to God, it was able to do extraordinary things: survive in the face of empires, and generate a society unique in the ancient world, of the equal dignity of all as fellow citizens under the sovereignty of the Creator of heaven and earth. Faithless, however, it was just one more minor power in the ancient Near East, whose chances of survival against larger political predators were minimal.

What makes the book of Hosea remarkable is the episode with which it begins.  God tells the prophet to marry a prostitute, and see what it feels like to have a love betrayed. Only then will Hosea have a glimpse into God’s sense of betrayal by the people of Israel.

Having liberated them from slavery and brought them into their land, God saw them forget the past, forsake the covenant, and worship strange gods.

Yet He cannot abandon them despite the fact that they have abandoned Him.

It is a powerful passage, conveying the astonishing assertion that more than the Jewish people love God, God loves the Jewish people.

The history of Israel is a love story between the faithful God and his often faithless people. Though God is sometimes angry, He cannot but forgive.

He will take them on a kind of second honeymoon, and they will renew their marriage vows:

“Therefore I am now going to allure her;
I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her . . .
I will betroth you to me forever;
I will betroth you in righteousness and justice,
in love and compassion.
I will betroth you in faithfulness,
and you will know the Lord.” (Hosea 2: 16-22)”

It is possible that that reference to ‘leading her (Israel) into the desert’ is a reference to the exiles that Israel has experienced. Yet, all these exiles were only temporary for those who were found faithful. The faithful returned from Assyria, they returned from Babylon, and they have in the last 60+ years returned, and are returning, from the final exile to the ‘four corners’ of the earth[1].

Rabbi Sacks goes on to say:

“… One verse in the midst of this prophecy deserves the closest scrutiny. It contains two complex metaphors that must be unraveled strand by strand:

“In that day,” declares the Lord,
“you will call Me ‘my husband’ [ishi];
you will no longer call Me ‘my master’ [
baali]. (Hosea 2: 18)

This is a double pun. Baal, in biblical Hebrew, meant ‘a husband’, but in a highly specific sense – namely, ‘master, owner, possessor, controller.’ It signalled physical, legal and economic dominance.

It was also the name of the Canaanite god – whose prophets Elijah challenged in the famous confrontation at Mount Carmel. Baal (often portrayed as a bull) was the god of the storm, who defeated Mot, the god of sterility and death. Baal was the rain that impregnated the earth and made it fertile. The religion of Baal is the worship of god-as-power.

Hosea contrasts this kind of relationship with the other Hebrew word for husband, ish. Here he is recalling the words of the first man to the first woman:

“This is now bone of my bones And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman [ishah], Because she was taken from Man [ish].” (Gen. 2: 23)

Here the male-female relationship is predicated on something quite other than power and dominance, ownership and control.

Man and woman confront one another in sameness and difference. Each is an image of the other, yet each is separate and distinct.

The only relationship able to bind them together without the use of force is marriage-as-covenant – a bond of mutual loyalty and love in which each makes a pledge to the other to serve one another.

Not only is this a radical way of reconceptualizing the relationship between man and woman. It is also, implies Hosea, the way we should think of the relationship between human beings and God.

God reaches out to humanity not as power – the storm, the thunder, the rain – but as love, and not an abstract, philosophical love but a deep and abiding passion that survives all the disappointments and betrayals.

Israel may not always behave lovingly toward God, says Hosea, but God loves Israel and will never cease to do so.”[2]

The Tanakh repeatedly states that Israel shall be restored to the Land, to Eretz Israel, not because they necessarily deserve to be, but because this return, and re-establishment of their ‘betrothal’ to their Husband, is for His Name’s sake. 

The Almighty declares His sovereignty and His eternal love by returning His People to the Land of Israel.

Today this understanding carries little favour in the Hellenistic Christian world which embraces Replacement Theology. I have a chapter on this issue in my book ‘Doctrinal Pitfalls of Hellensim’ – see http://www.amazon.com/Doctrinal-Pitfalls-Hellenism-Studies-Greek-ebook/dp/B00DO17CK8/

 

 

 

[1] see my article ‘Israel: Return in Belief or Unbelief’ – http://goo.gl/hwBeoO

[2] – quoted from “http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/16788#.VTGfkGSqqkp