Tuesday, December 30, 2014



Many years ago, a friend and I were hiking in the Himalayas of Kashmir, India.  We stopped one afternoon, to rent a small, timeworn cabin in a beautiful mountain valley.  In the cabin was a fireplace.  As we were settling ourselves in, the owner’s young son, probably about twelve years old, was laying up the fireplace with wood.

It was quite a large fireplace for such a small cottage, and the boy laid the wood with great care.  He placed each stick as if it had a special spot.  When he was done, there was a tangle of stacked wood inside the huge firebox, with a single, very dry stick about the size of a drinking straw protruding out of the front.  He told us that he would be back in the evening to light the fire for us.

When my friend and I returned to the cabin later that evening, the boy came in with us.  He took a match, lit it and held it to that stick coming out of the front.  As we watched, the flame traveled up the stick, caught some of the wood in the middle of the pile of wood, then, not too slowly but not too quickly, one by one ignited each piece of wood in the fireplace.

As it burned, the wood settled together, and without poking and adjusting with a fireplace poker, continued to burn slowly and steadily through much of the evening.  I have never before or since seen such a fine fire.  I have, many times since that time, tried to replicate the young Kashmiri’s fire, but have never been able to lay such a one as he.

The following instructions for lighting your New Year's fire are much more crude, but it is the best I can manage:



It is best done on a cold winter’s eve
As the sun sinks low in the western trees.
Should you be so blessed with skies of snow,
Each flake will reflect the fire’s red glow.
But be equally blessed in a starry night.
Your hearth-fire will be yet one more star light.
First, choose a log, knotty and thick
To lay near the front and to keep all of the sticks
Piled in their place in the miscellaneous stack
That is laid between this and the chimney’s back.
In this stack put some paper, crumpled and dry,
And some small bits of kindling.  Then you should try
To place something larger on the kindling below.
These will catch fire when the flame starts to grow.
Open the damper, open the draft,
Watch the small flame and see how it laughs
As it soon burns the paper, and then starts to lick
With its fiery tongue along one of the sticks.
The small blaze soon gains ravenous power
As it looks for more of your wood to devour.
And now your hearth-fire is blazing free
With a warmth and a light that dances with glee.
There are very few things that give such delight
As a fire in the fireplace on a dark winter’s night.
It crackles and snaps and seems to suggest
Hot chocolate and popcorn to share with your guests.
So let the wind blow; let blizzards descend,
On your hearth is a fire to share with a friend.

Sunday, December 7, 2014


(Please scroll down to read parts 1-8)

When we allow our predetermined view of theology, which may be based only upon a small part of the Scriptures, to change the intent of other writings in the Scriptures, it affects even the way we view what is happening in our contemporary world.
  We run the great danger of making the same mistakes as did Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel in the 17th century (post #6).  He believed so strongly that the ten missing tribes would be found that he allowed himself to be unduly persuaded by contemporary events and assertions that were of questionable credibility.

One does not need to be unlearned to be misguided.  Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel was one of the most highly regarded scholars of his day, greatly respected in both the Jewish and the Christian communities.  And, I dare say, Oliver Cromwell was also a man not easily deluded (Please also see post #6).

It may be true enough that, mistaken or not, the results of the decisions of these two men were positive, for the Jews were allowed to return to England.  However, one must wonder about the thinking that led up to that decision.  Linking the name for England with a Biblical meaning in order to advance one’s own political purpose might cause some to be suspicious of the motivations behind such a teaching.  Are we advancing the cause of Scripture, or are we using Scripture to advance a cause that is our own? 

In Our Present Day

We have a situation in our own day that is, in some ways, of the same kind that was presented to Cromwell.  Since the year of 1948, we have seen the Jewish nation once again present in the original Promised Land.
  The rebirth of the Jewish homeland has been viewed by many to be a modern-day miracle. What is more, considering the fact that many of their neighboring countries are so hostile to the nation of Israel’s existence that they have vowed to wipe them off the face of the map, one might say the fact that Israel has endured as a nation is also a miracle.  Regarding the reality of this present-day phenomenon, we wonder to what extent this fits into the prophetic Word of God.

Some have hailed this situation as evidence that God is bringing His people back to the Holy Land and that He will soon bring history to its conclusion. The Jews are returning to the Promised Land.

Many people have seen the birth of the nation of Israel in its homeland as a harbinger to the return of Jesus Christ. I understand the perspective where some say, “The Jewish people are back in the Promised Land.  It may be true that they are now largely a secular nation, but God will bring them to understand and come to believe that Jesus Christ was their long-awaited Messiah.”

However, before we become too carried away by speculation, would it not be wise to consider also all of the New Testament writings concerning the spiritual aspect of Israel, rather than only the physical?  By focusing only on the Old Testament promises, we are likely to draw inconclusive or erroneous conclusions.  We would not be the first to do so. 

God’s Remnant People

We return then to our simplistic answer.  God has preserved His remnant. The plain fact is that we do not know how God has done this nor the ethnic identity of this people. Even if one believes that they must only be the blood descendants of the original twelve tribes of Israel, all is not so clear.

With the probable scattering of the Ten Lost Tribes to the many corners of our world, I have sometimes asked the question of individuals what percentage of heritage was required classify someone as being “Jewish?” With all of the unknown movements of people and settlers throughout history, along with conquering societies who regularly made brides of those whom they have conquered in distant lands, a little of the original Jewish blood may flow in the veins of societies that we would never suspect.

The question I have asked is this; “To be a direct descendant of the tribes of Israel, is it a requirement to have 100% original Jewish heritage?” If so, that would mean if even one ancestor married outside of the Jewish race, all of their descendants would not be Jewish.

If not 100%, then what is the percentage necessary? 99%? 90%? 50%? You can see that the whole subject begins to become very murky. Nevertheless, notwithstanding all of our uncertainties, we can be certain that all the deeds and plans of God proceed according to the way that God has designed.

The questions surrounding God’s specific fulfillment of His promises are great indeed, and the answers are shrouded in much that we cannot see and cannot know.  In spite of the fact that our inquiry must remain largely inconclusive, our study and investigation is not fruitless, for it exposes some pitfalls of premature, impetuous and reckless conclusions.  We have seen that these conclusions are commonly governed more by personal views than by Scripture.

Words of Scripture that are meant to give us only a partial revealing of the complete picture of the ways of God and what He is doing should never cause us to speculate beyond what has been written. The danger comes when we assume more.

It is wise not to be dogmatic on matters about which we know little. We sometimes rather take the little that we know and bend and mold it to support some personal or political agenda. These are pitfalls we would do well to avoid.

We do better to remain faithful to God in our personal lives, and to be watchful. We only marvel as we see God’s plan begin to unfold.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


(Please scroll down to read parts 1-7)


It is with these three covenants of God (previous post) as a backdrop that we look at the promises of a restored Israel.  The covenants are important to this subject because they show us the direction toward which God is working in the restoration.  What is it that we see?

First, from the very beginning with Abraham, we see that God intended to bless not only him, but that through Abraham “all the families of the earth [would] be blessed” (Genesis 12:1). The Jewish people were meant to act as the means through which God would bring His blessings to every nation or race of people.  This is at least part of the meaning of God’s statement to the sons of Israel in Exodus 19:6: “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”

How did God mean to bring about this blessing to all of the families of the earth?  Was it that the nations needed to have a “second hand relationship” with God, and only come to God through the mediators of the Jewish people?  Or should those of the nations who sought a relationship with God become proselytes, thereby making themselves Jewish in order to come under the blessings of God? 

A Chosen Race

We know now that it was neither of these options, for the Apostle Peter lifts the following Scripture out of the context of the Old Testament and applies them directly to the church: 

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; for you once were not a people, but now you are the people of God; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy (1 Pet 2:9-10 NAS). 

The words that Peter uses in these verses are phrases that were originally spoken to the Old Testament Jews, but here we see Peter unapologetically transpose these Old Testament promises to apply them to the New Testament church. Even in Peter's day, the church consisted more of converted Gentiles than it did converted Jews. All throughout history, the Jews had considered themselves apart from the nations around them and as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people for God’s own possession.” How could Peter now apply this to a new group of people that mainly consisted of Gentiles?

It is here where we begin to see the difficulty in this case in adhering strictly to a literal hermeneutic in the Old Testament and then trying to carry that same hermeneutic over into the New Testament.  If one were to make the claim that God’s Old Testament promises to the Jewish people must be fulfilled only in the direct blood line of the Jews, then there is a difficulty in knowing how to interpret the words of Peter.

The Apostle Paul also spoke in some terms never before heard. Actually, considering the religious climate of the day, his words must have seemed scandalous: 

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly; neither is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh.  But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God (Romans 2:27-29 NAS). 

Furthermore, building on a line of reasoning and showing God’s means of election, Paul demonstrates that “it is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants” (Romans 9:8 NAS). 

No Distinctions of Eternal Significance

In fact, throughout the Epistles of the New Testament, when we look at the church and consider it from a spiritual perspective, it is difficult to see any distinction between the Jewish and the non-Jewish believers in Christ.  There remains, of course, the every-day and common distinctions between the two that any ethnically diverse society would have.  But in spite of these, Paul says this: 

For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him (Romans 10:12 NAS). 

Were there then no distinctions at all in the New Testament times between the believing Jews and the Gentile Christians?  We know that there were indeed distinctions.  Paul, despite the words that he wrote to the Romans (as well as to others), also spoke openly of his Jewish heritage and the fact that he was a descendant from the tribe of Benjamin (Romans 11:1).  Also, in his missionary journeys, Paul customarily went first to the synagogues, stating that it was necessary for the word of God to be spoken to the Jews first (Acts 13:46).

It is understandable that in the New Testament church there would also be this distinction among the believers, just as there is in any multi-ethnic church even today.  But we should also notice what Paul wrote to the church at Galatia: 

There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave or free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise (Galatians 3:28-29 NAS). 

It would be absurd to assert that Paul was saying in this verse that, in Christ, absolutely all distinctions had magically disappeared as if there were no longer such a thing as differences in economical status, or even in the gender of the sexes.  It was obvious to see that, in every-day life, these distinctions remained.  Even was it so between Jew and Greek.

But, when it comes to being heirs to the Old Testament promises to Abraham, all distinctions do disappear, as if by magic.  It is not magic, of course, but that we have become heirs according to promise.

To quote again the words of Paul, “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29), and “It is not the children of the flesh who are children of God, but the children of the promise are regarded as descendants” (Romans 9:8 NAS). 

An Enlarged Inheritance

And what is promised to Abraham’s descendants, the heir according to promise? Much indeed. Paul wrote to this same Roman church, “the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. (Romans 4:13).

Almost as a side note, Paul mentions in this verse that the inheritance includes a Promised Land far beyond the Palestine of Abraham’s day and even far beyond the portion of the world known to Abraham as was told him at the time of the sealing of the covenant. Paul tells us that the heirs of Abraham, heirs according to promise, would eventually inherit the world.

This thought is astonishing enough, but it is even greater than it first seems. Paul is not only talking about the “world” as in the whole earth, but the word is kosmos, meaning the whole created order! Again we see that God has expanded His promises to His children. Certainly, it has always been his intention, but like Abraham and like David, as our understanding of the extent of creation has grown, God has shown us further the extent of His promises.
The next post will be the final one of this rather lengthy series. For all of those who have stuck with me this far, thank you. Also, thanks for the good comments that some of you have emailed to me.
We will conclude next time with some final thoughts on God's Remnant People that He is preserving