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Understanding Scripture in Light of a Jewish Timeline

No Room in the Inn?
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Many of the events around Christ’s birth have been verified historically. Although, for some, the dates don’t seem to jive, but evidence is not always the force that causes one to believe. There is evidence that Caesar Augustus had 3 censuses during his reign with one being in 8 BC. As we have learned previously, Christ was likely born in 2 BC. So, is this a discrepancy? Not really. Think about how long it would take to do a census in 8 BC. Just because Caesar said to “make it so” in 8 BC, would it occur everywhere at the same time? We are so used to internet and microwaves that we forget the time in which we are referring. Taking six years to reach Palestine and getting the framework set up to taking such a census in that region is doing pretty good. Others have criticized Luke stating that “this taxing was first made when Cyrenius [Quirnius] was governor of Syria” (Lk 2:2). History does show Quirnius to be in Syria during this time period but not as Governor. He was governor in 6-7 AD. Again, a blunder? Not really. Just as our American words can have different meanings so can Greek words. The word translated ‘first” (i.e., prote) can also mean “prior to.” Therefore, the statement could be that this is the census before Quirnius was Governor in Syria. The historical placement of the event can be considered accurate.

Joseph had to return to Bethlehem to get registered for the taxation which was being implemented (Lk 2:1-3). He was from the lineage of King David, and Bethlehem was David’s home town (Lk 2:4-5). With Mary being pregnant and on the journey with him, it took longer than normal to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem. Yet, there were so many people traveling for this same issue, the roads were likely safer than they ever were previously. Yet, it took a lot out on Mary.

Back in the first century, Bethlehem was not a booming town. Even when the prophecy was given by Micah (Mi 5:2), it was not a booming town. It is only about six miles south of Jerusalem and was not a city where many people traveled since it wasn’t on a major Roman road of the day. Besides, even if someone was on such a road, would they stay in Bethlehem when Jerusalem was so close? In addition, the custom of the day was for family to stay with family—not in an inn or other places of abode. Inns were more common in large cities, like Jerusalem, and perhaps on major thoroughfares, as travelers would not have close relatives nearby, because they had not arrived at their final destination where family likely were located. In addition, the word used here (kataluma) is the same word used more definitely for a spare room (Lk 22:11) rather than a separate lodging (pandokheion, Lk 10:34; 11:22) which uses a different word for such. The guest room was already full of additional relatives (Lk 2:7).

Also, Bethlehem was a shepherding community and not one where travelers would frequently travel through. For someone to go to a place like Bethlehem, they had to be wanting to go there—not passing through. Therefore, the need for an inn was very low, and the number of visitors an innkeeper would get would likely be too low to make it profitable. The fields around Bethlehem was where the flocks for temple worship were kept and raised. This is a critical point for us to consider later.

When did Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem? Most movies and plays about this story have them arriving while Mary is delivering, and Joseph is desperate to find a place—any place—anywhere. But is that what scripture is really telling us? Luke tells us that Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem and “while they were there” she had her baby (Lk 2:6). This doesn’t sound like this was an immediate need or crisis. So, where were they? Well, since Joseph was of the lineage of David, he had to travel to his ancestor David’s birth place, i.e., Bethlehem. Therefore, he would have relatives there. As we just pointed out, relatives stayed with relatives. Let’s not put our social mores on this concept. Often, we would gladly stay in an inn than with relatives, but this was not the case in this culture. It was a privilege and honor, as well as a duty, to take care of visiting relatives, no matter the occasion. So, if they were with relatives, where did the stable, animals, shepherds, etc. come into the story? Let’s consider that.

Because of the need for so many people to come to Bethlehem because of the tax registration, Bethlehem became crowded—very crowded. Joseph and Mary were only one couple among hundreds to thousands who had to return. People’s homes were very crowded and filled to capacity. Mary and Joseph were very welcome to stay until she was ready to deliver. It may sound cold to us today, but Mary would not have been welcome to have her baby in a house filled with so many people. This is for two major reasons. One, there was no privacy. Second, she would be considered unclean for up to a week (Lv 15:19-23). But it is even more complicated as this passage tells us. Everything she touches, everyone she touches, become unclean. That is a problem in a house filled with so many people. The logistics to have Mary there as she gives birth and for the week after becomes untenable. Joseph has to find a solution. Where could Joseph take Mary where she could be taken care of in such a crowded place where there wasn’t an inn? Think about it, even if there was an inn, would an innkeeper want a delivery in his inn where his room, of which he would likely have few, would become unclean? It would be a big burden to get everything clean again. Certain things would have to be washed, some scrubbed, and some destroyed (Lv 15:12). So, as you can see, this was quite the dilemma for Joseph and Mary due to the customs and social mores of their day.

Looking for a place proved more difficult than Joseph thought. Because all the houses were so crowded, most could not bring their animals into their home at night as normal. Therefore, even the outside areas for animals were full to capacity and some people had to stay all night outside with the animals to prevent robbers from taking them or them wandering off in the middle of the night. Finding a place to have a baby proved extremely difficult.

So, where could Joseph find a secluded place that would not be a burden to others, yet would be comfortable for Mary to have her child? Migdal Eder. You see, God knew this all those years ago and had Micah prophesy of this (Mi 4:8). Joseph likely didn’t even know he was fulfilling prophecy. He was just looking for a logical, viable, and satisfactory solution to their need. You see, because Bethlehem was not only a shepherding community, it was a special shepherding community. The shepherds here were not regular shepherds, but were trained for how to raise sheep for the purpose of them being used as a sacrifice at the temple. Not just any animal could become a sacrifice. It had to be without blemish. Do you realize how hard it is to have an unblemished animal in the wild? All sorts of things could happen to the animal. These shepherds had to ensure nothing happened to these animals. It wasn’t just taking care of them, mending their injuries, and making them acceptable for human use. No, it was raised to another whole level. If the animal was injured, they were no longer acceptable for sacrifice, even if the animal recovered. It was now considered blemished. So, in order to ensure things went well with the sheep birthing process, a special place was made for the sheep to have their lambs. This was at Midal Eder, the watchtower of the flock (Mi 4:8; Gn 35:21). They built a place here. Maybe it was a cave or some type of shelter for both the shepherds, their supplies, and likely other animals they would need to take supplies from Bethlehem or from Jerusalem to this shelter for them to use as they watched after the sheep. When the lambs were being prepared for sacrifice, they would swaddle them to prevent the lambs from hurting themselves. They would then place them in the manger there made especially for this purpose to calm the animal so it could more easily be inspected for any blemishes. Because of these lambs’ special religious nature, nothing was taken for chance. All was a very methodical process to ensure each and every animal was without blemish (Ex 12:5). They tried to remove all obstacles that would cause or induce injury.

Once the cramping started, Joseph led Mary out to Midgal Eder on their donkey. Likely a few of the women went with him. It was now June, the time of Shavuot—a Jewish holiday which represented paradigm shifts and the inclusion of non-Israelites. The time of birthing sheep had recently ended, so there was no competition for using the shelter at Migdal Eder (Mi 4:8). While not ideal by our standards, I’m sure Joseph considered it pretty ideal, and he likely felt fortunate. It was a place still in Bethlehem, so relatives were close by if needed. Likely some of them helped with the baby’s delivery. It was almost abandoned that time of year, although it likely contained supplies for the shepherds and likely a donkey or two for hauling supplies. It may have had other animals, like goats and oxen, for various needs: milk, carrying cargo, and maybe even food. It provided a quiet place for Mary to have her baby and would be a place to stay until her uncleanness was over. Afterward, she could be welcomed back into the crowded house. Then everyone would ooh and aah over the infant.

Joseph thought back on the things that Mary had told him. The angel Gabriel had appeared to her in the sixth month (Lk 1:26), just before Rosh Hashanah which occurred on the first day of the seventh month (Lv 23:23-25). He now understood this was the time of the baby’s conception by the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:35). Thanks to the Jewish leaders adding Adar II to their calendar, this Shavuot was now nine months later. The baby was conceived on Rosh Hashanah when all of Israel asked God to remember his covenant with his chosen nation. Now, the baby was being born on Shavuot when God instituted paradigm changes and when Gentiles were accepted. He was now being born at Midgal Eder where the sheep born to be temple sacrifices were born—where they were wrapped in swaddling cloths and placed in the manger for inspection. Joseph looked at this one born on this Jewish holiday. Did he recognize all the symbolism God had bestowed on this special day? Did the shepherds? They were the ones who provided lambs and goats for temple sacrifice. Now, this baby was lying in their special manager wrapped in cloths they used to swaddle newborn lambs so they could inspect them for any blemishes. Did they understand the significance?

After the baby was born, Joseph wanted to get back to Nazareth, but knew he needed to wait until the baby was older and stronger. His cousin insisted he stay with them a few months until the baby and mother could travel. When the time of purification was over, Joseph took Mary to the temple in Jerusalem to offer her offering of purification (Lk 2:22-24; Lv 12:6-7). This is where they met Simon and Anna who prophesied about Jesus (Lk 2:22-38). They then returned to the house in Bethlehem where they were staying. When Jesus was about six months old, they were visited by the Magi who gave the child gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Mt 2:1-12). These men told Mary and Joseph all they had seen and heard. An angel appeared to Joseph to have him take Mary and Jesus to Egypt (Mt 2:13) so he would not get killed by Herod’s order to kill all infants two years old and younger (Mt 2:16). Once Herod died, Joseph came back to Israel with Mary and Jesus, and took them to Nazareth (Mt 2:19-23).

Are you starting to see the symbolism here? Do you now see why swaddling was a significant sign? All babies were wrapped in swaddling clothes—that was their custom. Yet, only one was wrapped in swaddling cloth normally used for lambs born to become a sacrifice. And only one was wrapped in swaddling cloth, lying in the manger at Midgal Eder. The angel’s announcement was very specific and not vague at all. This was a significant sign, and one I am sure was not lost on these shepherds. This also explains why angels appeared to these shepherds—because they were not ordinary shepherds, but the ones taking care of sheep for sacrifice. The angels were basically stating that their jobs were now complete. The lamb they were waiting for had come. He was in their shelter, their stable, their manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes for special lambs born at Midgal Eder. This lamb was not just for a special sacrifice for someone’s sin debt, but for payment for the sins of the entire world.

While this is not the usual Christmas story, it seems to align more closely with scripture and with what the Jewish holidays represented. These Jewish holidays which God instituted with Israel back in Leviticus when he first formed their nation have many purposes. A significant purpose is their prophetic significance. Jesus’ conception and birth are two of them. Isn’t it interesting how God coordinates so much, and we take so much of it for granted? The Bible is full of such wonderment if we only look. May we be more attentive to what God is doing in our lives as we embark on the coming year.

Randy DockensComment
Christmas Star

What was the Christmas star? Rick Larson in his DVD Star of Bethlehem gives some very compelling evidence to what the star likely could have been. It could not have been something that would draw much attention to it because no one seemed to know about the star until the Magi came to Jerusalem and started asking questions. However, the star did do some unusual things for a star. Larson takes the scientific approach and does explain many of these occurrences. Some, however, state that only a unique event designed by God could explain the occurrence of it being over the house where Jesus was in Bethlehem (Mt 2:9). However, does it have to be all or none: i.e., does it have to be all scientific in explanation or all miraculous in design? Could it not be some of both? Let’s look more closely.

Larson gives compelling evidence to the date of Christ’s conception. At the time of the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah, in September of 3 BC, the planet Jupiter (known as the king planet) made a very close conjunction with the star Regulus (known as the king star), and over the next couple of months Jupiter actually made three conjunctions with Regulus. Not only that, but this occurred in the constellation of Leo, which is the constellation representing a lion, both a symbol of Judah as well as of the coming conquering Messiah and would fulfill the prophecy of Isaac to Judah (Gn 49:9) as these three conjunctions would be occurring around the feet of Leo within this constellation. In addition, the constellation Virgo at the time of Rosh Hashanah in 3 BC would occur during the daytime, i.e., clothed in the sun, as described in Revelation, with the new moon at her feet (Rv 12:1-5). Rosh Hashanah was also known as the Feast of Trumpets (Lv 23:24-25) which was a memorial feast of the blowing of trumpets to ask God to remember His covenant with Israel. Therefore, the conception of the Messiah would indeed represent God remembering His people after the 400 years of prophetic silence.

Before Jesus was born, Joseph, who currently lived in Nazareth, which was around the Galilee region of Israel, found that he had to return to Bethlehem for a census since that was the birthplace of his ancestors (Mt 1:1-17; Lk 2:1-4). Bethlehem was approximately 5 miles south of Jerusalem. The prophet Micah had prophesied some 700 years prior that the birth of the Messiah would occur in Bethlehem (Mi 5:2).

Again, the stars told the story. After the triple conjunction of Jupiter with Regulus, Jupiter continued its journey for a rendezvous with Venus, the Mother planet. With the naked eye, they would appear as one star– one very bright star. This would have occurred in June and would coincide with Christ’s birth.

Just because a star is bright doesn’t mean it would draw much attention by people in and of itself. Actually, not too long ago (12-Mar-2012) we had a conjunction of Jupiter and Venus which was made Venus brighter than ever. However, not many really paid attention except to perhaps think, “Wow, Venus is awfully bright tonight.” Only those watching and understanding the planetary movements understood the significance and rarity of the event.

Therefore, if Larsen is correct, then someone who would know and understand these movements of the planets would be needed. Who would that be? The Magi, of course. These were scientists and priests of their day who would have a knowledge of the stars, their movements, and astronomical events.

The Magi, or wise men, who came to visit Jesus brought gifts (Mt 2:1-11), were likely of Parthian descent. Parthian kings were elected by the Megistanes which was composed of two houses: the “Royal House,” or Arsacids, which consisted of the male members of the royal line – called the “Magi,” and “the Senate” which consisted of the prominent secular leaders – called the “Wise Men.” Kings did not have to succeed from father to son but those selected for kingship did have to be a member of the Royal House and were elected by a concurrent vote between the two houses. It is possible that these were actual descendants from Northern Israel and similar in function to the Levites in Judah. It was known by the Jews that many of the northern ten tribes of Israel still lived beyond the Euphrates, i.e., Parthian territory.

It is likely the Magi had their beginnings with Daniel as he became the chief of the Magi (wise men) during Nebuchadnezzar’s day (Dn 2:48) and was highly regarded by the reigning kings up through the reign of Cyrus (Dn 6:28). It is also very likely that Daniel would have influence on the house of Jehoiachin when brought to Babylon (2Ki 24:15; 2Ch 36:9-10) and when released (2Ki 25:27-30) and could have had influence on how to maintain the kingly succession when outside Jerusalem. He also had insight when the promised Messiah would be born (Dn 9:25). All of this could have started the watch for the proper king to return and the maintenance of the proper bloodline so the prophecy could be fulfilled and documented.

The Magi who came were likely more than three and were likely a very large delegation and likely had an armed escort. Their arrival caused all of Jerusalem to be concerned (Mt 2:3). These were tenuous times between Rome and Parthia, so for such a large delegation to cross the Euphrates River into Judea – Roman territory – could likely have sparked another war if heads were not kept cool. Herod could have taken insult to their question of “Where is he that is born king of the Jews?” (Mt 2:2) as that was the title Rome had given to him. Although Herod plotted (Mt 2:8), the scribes told the Magi that scripture had predicted the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem and the Magi continued their journey toward Bethlehem (Mt 2:5-9).

No one knows exactly when the Magi began their journey. They apparently arrived in Bethlehem as Jupiter entered retrograde motion on December 25, 2 BC over the town of Bethlehem. This would have given them at least 6 months to make their journey, likely from Persia. Jesus would have been of Arsacid descent and would explain the reason for the trip of the Magi as well as the elaborate gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh which they brought to give to this one they recognized as a king (Mt. 2:11). They likely also understood his prophetic significance as these gifts pointed to Jesus being prophet [myrrh], priest [frankincense] and king [gold] (again, likely from the teachings of Daniel and understanding Old Testament Scripture). Jesus would have been six months old at this time. It is likely that Herod’s decree of killing all children in Bethlehem up to the age of two was to be certain that the “correct” child was killed. After all, although the child was only 6 months, the signs in the stars occurred 9 months earlier which would make the total time to be slightly under two years. Herod, and the wise men, may have been unsure if the initial signs were of conception or of birth. Herod was making sure of either in case it was the later.

So the signs in the heavens got the Magi to Israel and they stopped by the capital city to find out where this king was living. The Jewish scribes repeated the prophecy of Micah stating that he was prophesied to be born in Bethlehem (Mi 5:2). Therefore, when they were leaving Jerusalem, they again saw the star and it led them to the house where Jesus was living (Mt 2:9-10). This is where some have a problem with Larsen’s scientific approach as this is hard to explain. However, I think this is where the Shekinah glory of God could have played a part (like it did in the Old Testament when it led the Israelites to their Promised Land [Ex 13:21]). It could have appeared in the form of the star the Magi had been seeing and could have hovered over the exact house where Jesus was living. That would be consistent with scripture, not be out of scope for God to do, and would have been rational in the Magi’s mind as it would form a continuity of their trek following the star and then pointing them to their final destination.

God revealed to the Magi that they should not return to Herod so they went back to their homeland via a different route (Mt 2:12). However, this is likely not the end of the incident. Herod, and Rome, would not have known of the Magi’s true intentions. After all, less than 40 years earlier, the Parthian king Antigonus had captured Palestine and ruled as “king of the Jews” for 3 years (40-37 BC) causing Herod to have to flee. Parthian rule had been popular with the Jews. Mark Antony was later able to defeat Antigonus, have him beheaded, and pushed the Parthians back to beyond the Euphrates River. However, further wins were not successful and Rome was unable to subdue Parthian territory east of the Euphrates River. Since that time détente had ruled, but now was the question of whether Parthia was trying to regain Palestine by looking for another Jewish king. History tells of a great summit conference between Rome and Parthia that occurred in 1 BC on an island in the Euphrates River (neutral territory). Therefore, the visit of the Magi may have been the spark or a contributing factor to this unrest that ended peacefully.

Therefore, we see consistency between scripture and history, between scripture and science and still being consistent with how God works.

Son of God - Part of Trinity
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Sometimes I feel Christianity has created more confusion than clarity around the role of the Godhead. I think the term Son of God has been so used and misused that we tend to forget the original meaning of the term. One can argue that the term is widely used in the Gospels so why the concern? The concern is not the term but the definition of the term. Over time, the way mankind thinks of terms changes and can get distorted from its original intent. We often think of "son" and "father" as not being equal and so I think we have fostered the idea that the Son of God is not really equal to God himself and thereby people start to think that they are actually two different entities. Some have tried to counter this by saying, "God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit" but I think people often feel that three entities are being described. It is only a matter of subtlety you say? Perhaps; but even in his earthly ministry, Christ made subtlety important.

One day the Sadducees were asking Jesus about the validity of the resurrection (Mt 22:23-28). How did Jesus respond? He stated that they did not know the scriptures (Mt 22:29). They were incensed. Jesus told them that God stated, "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Mt 22:32; Ex 3:6). Therefore, God was not their God; but is their God. Tense was very important. Yahweh was their God when on the earth and continued to be their God. As Jesus stated, "[God] is not the God of the dead but of the living" (Mt 22:32). Therefore, Jesus implied that life continues after death and therefore supportive of a resurrection. Hmmm, implication of scripture is just as important as direct statement in scripture.

So let's see if there are implications about God in the Old Testament. Many say that the idea of God as Trinity is not stated in the Old Testament and so is only a concept developed by Christians. Well, let's see if that is true. We don't have to go far to find a subtle clue. Genesis 1:1 states, "In the beginning, God created...." So let's see what is being stated here. God, or in Hebrew, Elohim, created. This is a plural noun but used with a singular verb. How clever. Subtle? Yes. Important? Yes.

If that was the only place we find such a clue then we might question the intentionality of this verse. However, there is another critical juncture in scripture that also speaks to God being Trinity.

When God led the Israelites out of Egypt, He met them at Mt. Sinai. The first encounter was quite ominous. They saw huge billows of smoke and fire coming from the north and descending on the top of the mountain (Ex 19:16-19). God even spoke to them and it sounded like thunder, the earth shook, and the people were very frightened. So much so that they asked God to speak only to Moses and then he relay God's message to them (Ex 20:19). There was no one that day that wanted to stand up and say, "I have a few issues with you God. Let me get them off my chest." No, they knew their place and it was not one of righteousness. Who can argue that this encounter was with the first person of the Godhead, who we today term, God the Father?

However, a few chapters later, we have a very unusual occurrence. Moses, Aaron and his sons (the priests of their day), and 70 leaders of the people met with God and ate with Him (Ex 24:9-11). This is a stark contrast to their previous encounter as described above. God suspended his original requirement that they could not approach him—because this was on his terms, not theirs. This showed a more personable side of God. This was the second component of the Godhead - the one who later came to earth in human flesh—the one who had walked and talked with Adam and Eve—the one of the Godhead who has always reached out to mankind. The one we today term, God the Son.

Then not too far later, we see the third component of the Godhead. Scripture states that God's spirit indwelled the 70 leaders who Moses had chosen so they could understand what God wanted them to do to help administrate God's will to the people (Nu 11:24-25). It is not too hard to see that this is the one we today term, God the Holy Spirit.

Therefore, although not stated specifically, even the Old Testament is in agreement with God as Trinity. Why is this important? Who else can be Trinity? No one. Who else could be omnipotent, omnipresent, and omniscient yet still become human? No one. Therefore, God is unique and there is no other entity who can be his equal. Being Trinity allows him to be the most efficient relationship builder—ever!

This is what the Gospel writers were trying to portray about Christ—his uniqueness. He was born to a human woman but through the Holy Spirit—not through a human man (Mt 1:18). Because he was born, hence the term "son." Not a normal son, but the Son of God, meaning he originated from God but not separate from God. God's uniqueness is personified, not decreased. Who else could do that? No one. All of God put into a human form. He was brought low (Pp 2:7-8) in the sense he agreed to abide by some human limitations but not be limited by them. He still performed all the responsibilities as part of the Godhead. Again showing his uniqueness.

Therefore, next time you hear the term Son of God, think how the Gospel writers thought: uniqueness personified. It will bring a whole new level to your understanding of God, and a way for us to understand and show our humbleness toward Him.

Son of God
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We are getting close to the Christmas season, so I thought we would look at items associated with the Christmas story. “Son of God” is one such term. I’m sure you’ve heard this term many times. What does it mean to you? Is that what it really means?

First, let’s look at some terms similar to this: sons of God, children of God, Son of Man.

Sons of God: this term refers to angels (Gn 6:2, 4).

Children of God: believe it or not, the Bible does not claim that we are all children of God. Even though we are all subject to God, he states that only those who accept him by faith are considered his children (Ro 8:14). This term is used 13 times in the NIV New Testament and not in the Old Testament. In each case, it refers to those who are Christians, or followers of Christ, whether Jew or Gentile.

Son of Man: this term is used in both the NIV Old Testament and NIV New Testament 178 times and can refer to men in general with 93 times referring to the prophet Ezekiel and 2 times to other men. Then, it refers to Christ 83 times in both the Old and New Testaments. Christ used this term many times to refer to himself. He likely did this because this term is referring to the miracle of his birth. He was both 100% God and 100% human. His humanity was the miracle. His body was pure human – no divine DNA. Otherwise, he would not be the sin of atonement needed. The other miracle was that while he was human, he was also sinless.

Some have suggested that Christ was like Adam since Adam was created with perfect human DNA without father or mother. It is likely the Holy Spirit did the same here, but as an embryo within Mary. This may also be why Paul compared Christ to the first Adam (1Co 15). While their human components were similar, their spirits were different. While Adam’s spirit gave him life, Christ’s spirit not only gave his human frame life, it has given eternal life to everyone who trusts in him (1Co 15:45). Christ is unique and has always been unique. He is equal with God since he is part of the Trinity, as the second part of the Godhead.

We know that the term Son of God means something different that the normal definition of son: a male descendant; a male offspring; a male heir. After all, Christ existed before his earthly birth (Jn 1:1; 8:58), and even before creation (Hb 1:2). He is therefore superior to all beings created (Hb 1:4).

We also know that before Christ was born as an infant, he existed as a spirit (Jn 4:24). However, all three parts of the Godhead can show themselves in visible forms. God the Father showed himself in smoke, fire, and lightning at Sinai (Ex 19:18), Christ revealed himself in human form to Adam and Eve (Gn 3:8), to Moses (Ex 24:9-10), Joshua (Js 5:13-14), Manoah (Jd 13:21-22), and others. The Holy Spirit revealed himself as a dove at Christ’s baptism (Mt 3:16).

Once born, Christ’s body was totally human in every way (Jn 1:14, Pp 2:7-8, Hb 2:17). Although human, he was also perfect: sinless and unblemished having perfect DNA. He was indeed the only human who could be the perfect sacrifice for all mankind to pay the justice which God required.

Christ’s body, though, was different after his resurrection. How do we know this? Christ is described as the firstfruit of the resurrection (1Co 15:20). How is he the firstfruit when others had been resurrected before he had been (Lk 7:11-15, Jn 11:43-44) and were resurrected when he was resurrected (Mt 27:51-53)? Of all of these, only Christ was the one resurrected in a glorified body. These others were resurrected human; Christ’s body was now different. It is likely his body and spirit were fused forever together. Every cell of his body was both physical and spiritual. Therefore, he was unique. One day we will also have glorified bodies similar to his (1Jn 3:2).

Our spirits are within us and is what makes us alive and eternal beings (Jn 6:63, 2Co 1:22). Without our spirit, our bodies would not be alive (Ja 2:26). Our physical bodies are the shells for our spirit.

It seems that our physical bodies and spiritual bodies are fused together as one. These scriptures seem to suggest that our physical bodies are necessary to achieve our glorified bodies (1Th 4:16, 1Co 15:50-51). Otherwise, why would our physical bodies be needed to rise from the dead? It seems our spirits need to fuse to our physical bodies to make them glorified.

Christ was still a man after his resurrection (1Tm 2:5). He did not go back to his original state to be spirit. While still a man, his body is now glorified and fused within his Spirit—something unique. Even scars given to his physical body are still present (Zc 12:10). Yet, this does not mean we will keep our scars and blemishes. When the curse is lifted, the Refreshing (Ac 3:19), all will be made perfect again—including us. Christ keeping his scars was his decision to forever remind us of his love for us and what he did for us.

In his glorified body, Christ could be seen, but act as a spirit (Lk 24:31, Jn 20:19, 26). He appeared and disappeared at will. While Christ was able to teleport himself and others before being glorified (Jn 6:21), it seems this was stressed more after receiving his glorified body to show us what we can expect once we become like him.

This likely also explains the ominous verse about Tartarus (2Pt 2:4). This is a very strange verse without much explanation. However, the verse implies these angels did something very heinous. They had already rebelled, so it is not referring to that. Not all demons are in Tartarus, but only a select group. Why?

Back in Genesis is a potential clue (Gn 6:1-4). These angels, devoted to Satan, intermarried with human women. Their children became men of renown, likely large in stature and similar to the Greek gods we read about in literature. People revered them and maybe even worshipped them. Sound like a myth? Yes, but myths have a start in truth even though they gets distorted over time.

Some theologians, like Renald Showers in his book, What on Earth is God Doing?, state this was an attempt by Satan to thwart God’s plan of redemption by introducing angel DNA into the human genome. But, did Satan go even further?

Could this have been Satan’s attempt to make humans glorified for his purpose? He was making mankind different by infusing angel DNA into every cell of their body. This is somewhat similar to what we were talking about with God having our spirit infused into every cell of our body. Again, Satan is trying to counterfeit being God.

Christ’s physical body was completely human. It was not divine. It has to be completely human for him to identify with us; yet, he had to be without sin in order to pay the penalty God’s justice demanded. Only he could fulfill this. His spirit was divine; his body was human, but perfect: 100% God, 100% human. His glorified body was a fusion of some sort with his physical body so he can continue to identify with us for eternity. We will have a physical body, but it will perform like a spiritual body—the best of both worlds.

Why is this important? This shows the uniqueness of God. No one else could have accomplish this. It shows the love of God. Christ was willing to change himself forever to identify with us forever. It shows the mercy of God. Only Christ offers us a chance to be like him and with him. It shows his jealousy for us and he being willing to do anything for us to one day dwell with him forever. He did it all for us at his own sacrifice and his own willingness to change his relationship within the Trinity forever. It demonstrates he was both Son of God and Son of man: totally God, totally man, totally awesome!

Ultimate Inclusion
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For many of the past posts we have talked about how God instituted inclusion of everyone from the very beginning and used the Jewish festival Shavuot to indicate that. Today, we will see the act of ultimate inclusion is the primary fulfillment of the prophecy of Shavuot. Let’s explore further.

As we have talked about Shavuot, we have gone from the beginning of the Jewish nation at Mt. Sinai where God made a covenant with Israel so, as a nation, it would be his ambassador to the rest of the world. He then gave glimpses of how Shavuot represented that through the inclusion of Rahab from the destruction of Jericho, the inclusion of Ruth as she married Boaz and became part of the lineage of King David as well as that of Jesus Christ himself. Then, we saw how God set the stage of further inclusion with the birth of Christ through the conception of Christ through Mary and the Holy Spirit.

While Christ was here on earth with his disciples, he stated he had to leave, but another Comforter, or Advocate, would come who would teach them correctly about sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn 16:8). We know that the Holy Spirit descended upon the followers of Christ on the Shavuot after his ascension (Ac 2). God made it a significant event one could not deny as he sent a mighty wind and tongues of fire to rest over each believer. Then, the Holy Spirit entered each believer, giving them words to say to those in attendance at the festival. There were people from the entire known world present in Jerusalem that day. The message by the Holy Spirit spread to the entire known world in a single day!

What was the message? It could be paraphrased in many ways, but the bottom line is inclusion. The Holy Spirit had come to become accessible to all. Christ had paved the way for this feat to be possible. Before this time, the Holy Spirit was given to certain people for certain periods of time to accomplish something God needed to have accomplished. This is why King David prayed for the Holy Spirit not to be taken away from him (Ps 51:11). Yet, that is not the case for us today. Once we believe in Christ and what he did for us and trust in him only for our future, we have the Holy Spirit forever (Ac 2:38; Ep 1:13). And what we are given today is only a foretaste of the glory of our connection with Christ which is still to come (Ro 8:23).

So, here is the ultimate fulfillment of Shavuot—the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is inclusive—not exclusive—because it is freely given to all who believe. It is a gift, a foretaste, of things to come. Isn’t that what marketers do: give a teaser of what the real thing will be like? This is what God has done for us. He gives us a taste of what things will be like. The Holy Spirit binds our spirit to his, and we find that wonderful. Yet, it is only a small token of how great things will be for us in our future. Doesn’t that get you excited? I sure hope so. The God of the universe has allowed us to be connected to him. Could anything really be greater?

Randy DockensComment
Shavuot for Gentiles?

Christians celebrate Christmas; Jews Shavuot; Both celebrate one of the same paradigm shifts. In our last post, we stated that Christ’s birth was likely on Shavuot, 2 BC. While most Jews don’t celebrate Christ’s birth, they do celebrate Shavuot. So, if Christ was indeed born on Shavuot, which would be in June; how do we get Christmas in December? I thought we should at least address this conundrum since we were dealing with the paradigm shifts correlated with the Jewish feast Shavuot. June vs. December. That’s not a small difference to overcome regarding the timing of the birth of Christ. Why did we get it so wrong? Is it wrong? Can both be true?

As usual, this is not a simple answer, and yet, it really is. But to make it simple we must tease apart some of our traditional thinking. When we see a nativity scene, what do we see? Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus, of course. But there are also shepherds, likely an angel or two, and let’s not forget the animals. Is something missing? Oh yes, the wise men, the Magi. Wise men? Surely, we need the wise men, don’t we? After all, they are mentioned in the Bible at the time of Christ’s birth. Let’s look at that more closely. There is a time gap we must take into account. How much time? About six months. Hey, isn’t that the gap we mentioned earlier: June vs December? That must be a significant point, right? Let’s explore.

So, if Christ was born in June, does that mean the wise men didn’t come on the scene until December? Is that really consistent with scripture? Well, scripture does state the wise men came after Jesus was born (Mt 2:1) to a house (Mt 2:11) where the child (Mt 2:11) lived with Mary his mother. It would seem Jesus was about six months old at this time. If true, that would explain the time gap and it does seem consistent with this passage in Matthew. It also seems consistent with Herod’s insane decree to kill all males in Bethlehem from two years and younger (Mt 2:16). If the wise men had come when Jesus was an infant, then he would not need such a decree. Yet, the wise men, when they met with Herod (Mt 2:1-2) knew of the sign of the star, but not if it represented his conception or birth. Since the wise men didn’t report back to Herod (Mt 2:12), Herod didn’t get an answer to this question.

We now know, based upon the work Rick Larson did, Christ’s conception occurred in September, 3 BC. The wise men told Herod when they first saw the star (Mt 2:2). If it has been representing his birth, this would mean the child was nearly one and a half years old. Therefore, to make sure, Herod used a cutoff of two years.

So, what does this have to do with Christmas? Well, what did the Magi (wise men) bring with them for the child Jesus? Presents: gold, frankincense, and myrrh (Mt 2:11). According to the work Larsson did, this visit of the Magi occurred on December 25th of 2 BC. Isn’t that apropos? Now, there are those who state that Christmas was made in December to take the place of the pagan festival Saturnalia. And that would be true. This festival was around the winter solstice (the shortest day of the year). Yet, isn’t it just like God to make something which looked serendipitous to actually be divine intervention on his part?

I find this so interesting, and very characteristic of God. Christ’s birth was definitely a paradigm shift and he used Shavuot, the paradigm shift festival, to bring it to fruition. Yet, he also knew Christians would one day in the future celebrate his birth in December and had the Magi to present their gifts to the Christ child at this time. Who else could have planned such a dual fulfillment? Then, his birth on Shavuot set the stage for the ultimate inclusion event. What is that event? We’ll discuss that next time.

I hope this helps you to see we serve a wonderful, awesome, God. He pays such attention to detail. Always remember, you’re part of the detail to which he pays attention. Trust him. You will never regret it.

Randy DockensComment
Major Paradigm Shift
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In previous posts we have talked about how the Jewish festival Shavuot marked major paradigm shifts and how God’s plan for inclusion expanded over time. We saw how the forming of the nation of Israel at Mt. Sinai was a major paradigm shift which occurred on the very first Shavuot (Ex 24). God started working through a nation to reach out to the world rather than continuing to work through specific families or patriarchs. We then saw how inclusion occurred on a national and individual level (Js 2-6; Ru 1-4).

As we approach the New Testament, we see God making another major paradigm shift. God was on the verge of setting a new pattern of inclusion: going from inclusion occurring through a nation to it occurring through individuals. To understand this one, we must understand another Jewish Festival: Rosh Hashanah. Today, we know this as the Jewish New Year. Yet, it wasn’t always known as that. When first instituted, it was known as the Feast of Trumpets (Lv 23:23-25) and was the fifth of seven festivals. While all the feasts were memorial, as they pointed to how God worked in their past, how he was working in their present, and how he would work in their future, this particular feast was a special type of memorial. This was a festival to request God to remember his covenant with Israel. Why? Shortly after this festival was Yom Kippur, or Day of Atonement (Lv 23:26-32). This was a day of reckoning. Israel knew they had no good on their own to stand before a holy God. Their only chance was for God to remember his covenant with them. Therefore, trumpet blasts were made to request God to remember. Does this imply God forgot? No, this was really for Israel to remember what God had done for them in making an everlasting covenant with them and to help them prepare for the upcoming Yom Kippur.

So, how is this tied to the New Testament. Well, how does the New Testament open? It opens with the announcement to Mary that she would bear a son, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and would call his name Jesus (Mt 1:18; Lk 1:26-31). This announcement occurred on Rosh Hashanah, Feast of Trumpets. Why? Because God was stating he was remembering his covenant. This marked the end of what had been termed the 400 years of God’s silence. Ever since Malachi, it seemed God was silent. It wasn’t that he was not working, but he sent no prophets after Malachi. His next voice came through the angel Gabriel to Mary(Lk 1:26). God remembered his covenant and Mary conceived a child through the Holy Spirit (Lk 1:35). Yes, this was to be a very special child. He was to save his people from their sins (Mt 1:21).

So, if Jesus Christ was conceived on Rosh Hashanah, when was he born? He was most likely born on Shavuot. Doesn’t it seem apropos that he would be born on the festival that marks paradigm changes? Can you say Christ’s birth was not a paradigm change? Yes, that makes sense, but something doesn’t seem quite right. For most years, the time between Rosh Hashanah and Shavuot isn’t long enough for a normal gestation period for an infant. Gestation is a very crucial period for a fetus, and every week is important for fetal development and especially for adequate lung formation in the third trimester. A normal gestation period is considered to be 40 weeks (a range of 37-42 weeks). Yet, normally, the time between Rosh Hashanah and Shavuot is just shy of 35 weeks. Not enough time for an adequate gestation period. Could we be mistaken?

As they say, timing is everything. And that is definitely true here. Rick Larson has done some astounding work on the timing of the birth of Christ and the events which occurred at this birth. According to his work, Christ’s conception occurred on Rosh Hashanah in 3 BC. Something very interesting occurs in that year. To keep Passover near the Spring Equinox, and because the Jewish calendar is a lunisolar calendar with only 29 or 30 days per month, an extra month is added every so often to make Passover and the Spring Equinox realign properly. And, lo and behold, this is the year this extra month is added to their calendar. Then, the period of time from Rosh Hashanah to Shavuot becomes a normal gestation period (39 weeks) and can support the fact that Christ was likely born on Shavuot in 2 BC.

Christ’s birth was definitely a paradigm change for Israel – and for the world. He brought the true meaning of Scripture back to life and his death was for all of mankind and not just for the Jews. Again, this is a message of inclusion. Jesus paved the way for inclusion to be very personal. Isn’t that just what we would expect from a God who values relationships?

Don’t you find it interesting that God keeps the meaning of these Jewish festivals and makes them happen at just the right time to keep all the full meaning he intended for each one. Why? Well, he is a God of order after all (1Co 14:33). Also, I think it is a way for him to get our attention. It shows he pays attention to detail. If he can do that, he can certain pay attention to us individually. You, and we all, are a detail that he definitely cares about. How will you respond?

Randy DockensComment
Inclusion: A Taught Principle

The idea that God has a principle of inclusion for everyone may be a surprise to some, but it only prevails if it is a taught principle. So far, we’ve seen how God started with the inclusion of a nation into his overarching plan for the world. Then we saw how Israel’s leaders extended this idea to Rahab and her family when they destroyed Jericho. Today, we’ll see how an Israelite did the same for a foreigner. This demonstrates the progression from nation to leaders to citizens. Yet, it is a two-way street. Inclusion has to not only be offered but be accepted.

Maybe it was because the girl was beautiful, or maybe because Boaz was from a family whose mother had been extended this offer of inclusion and he understood his life was blessed because of it. Or, maybe it was a combination of both. Either way, Boaz extended this offer of inclusion to a foreigner. His deed not only benefited him and his family, but also his nation, as well as the entire world.

It’s not an unfamiliar story. Elimelek and his wife, Naomi, and his two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, left Judah and went to Moab because of a famine (Ru 1:1-2). Elimelek felt this move was best for his family as he tried to provide for them. Yet, they stayed far longer than they had originally expected. Likely, because his sons married and had jobs there. At any rate, they decided to stay. Family was more important than where they lived, or so they thought. But hardship came. Elimelek died, as did both Mahlon and Kilion a decade later (Ru 1:4-5). Not all at once, of course, but bit by bit, Naomi’s heart was torn, piece by piece. In the end, she found herself the foreigner living among people and customs that were not hers. It had been tolerable when she had family, but now . . . now all she had was sorrow. While she did have her daughters-in-law, survival of women alone living in a man’s world was difficult. When she heard the famine was lifted in Judah, she decided to return (Ru 1:6).

At first, her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, stated they would return with her. Evidently, the three of them got along well. Yet, these were young girls. Naomi knew they would be better able to find new husbands from their own people than from those who would now be foreigners to them. Naomi therefore begged them to stay and remarry (Ru 1:8-9). Orpah eventually relented and stayed, but Ruth begged Naomi to allow her to travel back with her. Ruth’s response has become probably the most noted feature of the book of Ruth and has become a quote often used in weddings to show devotion and commitment: Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely if even death separates you and me (Ru 1:8-9). That’s a great sentiment and a story in and of itself. Yet, it is a side story to the main story of this book.

The return was timed perfectly. It was the barley harvest (Ru 1:22) around Pesach (Passover). Shortly after that would be the wheat harvest (Ru 2:23) around Shavuot (Pentecost). Levitical law required farmers to not reap the edges of their field so the poor and widows could glean and thereby provide for themselves (Lv 19:9). And as fate would have it, and probably Naomi’s planning, and, of course, God’s divine providence, Ruth gleaned in Boaz’s field. Boaz was a relative of Naomi, and Boaz did not let this fact, or her beauty, escape him. Naomi helped Ruth to maintain Boaz’s interest and over a short time capture his heart. Boaz was determined to marry her (Ru 3:11). Yet, there was a closer relative to Naomi that would have first rights to become the kinsman redeemer, one would take over the care of the family and its inheritance (Ru 3:12). Law also required this person to provide an heir to the dead if the family was without children (Dt 25:5). Since Ruth’s husband, Mahlon, had died without an heir, it would be the responsibility of the kinsman redeemer to marry Ruth. This relative already had a family and did not want this responsibility, so he passed and allowed Boaz to be the kinsman redeemer for Naomi and Ruth (Ru 4:6-10). They were married and had a son, Obed, who became the grandfather to King David (Ru 13-16).

The wedding of Boaz and Ruth occurred on or very near Shavuot. I find this apropos as Ruth, the Moabitess, the foreigner, was incorporated into Israel, God’s chosen nation. This is a beautiful picture of inclusion. This time, it was on a personal level and demonstrated to everyone how such a concept should be incorporated into all families within Israel. Inclusion was a way to spread the news of who God is and his character of love for everyone. 

This example, of course, did not mean inclusion had to be only by marriage. Yet, it indicates how foreigners were not the enemy but the potential of revealing God to the world. By not showing animosity to foreigners, but sticking to their commitment to God and his Law, they would still be able to be the ambassadors God wanted them to be. With such an attitude, they could bring the knowledge of God to everyone. Sadly, that was not what happened. Yet, it is an example even for us today. Others are not our enemy, but the means and potential to share God and his character to them. Everyone needs God. First, they just need the attitude of inclusion.

Randy DockensComment
Inclusion of Everyone?

For the past several posts we have been discussing how God has always had a plan for inclusion, but did this really include everyone? In the last post, we had the story of Rahab and how she and her family were saved and incorporated into Israel. Yet, some of you may have asked why this wasn’t an inclusion of everyone rather than just Rahab. How is a policy of inclusion really inclusion if it doesn’t include everyone? Let’s try and explore that.

First of all, inclusion cannot be inclusion if the one being offered inclusion doesn’t want to be included. Sound like a cop out? Well, not really. To understand this, we need to go back several years—actually, several hundred years. The inhabitants of Jericho were a section of the Canaanite people who were descendants of the Amorites.

The Amorities. We have to go back at least five hundred years. This would be during the time of Abraham. Remember him? He is the one God promised all this land to in the first place (Gn 13:15-17). Yet, he told Abraham that he was going to have his descendants to be slaves in Egypt for about four hundred years (Gn 15:12). Why would he do that if Abraham was already in the land of Canaan? Kind of like going around your elbow to get to your thumb, huh? It would be if it wasn’t because of God’s plan for inclusion. Confused? Let’s look further.

God told Abraham he was going to do this because “the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure” (Gn 15:16). I know that sounds a little cryptic, but what it means is that God was dealing with the Amorites somehow. We don’t have details, but it shows God was trying to get their attention to elicit a decision from them. You see, God loved them and wanted the best for them. Yet, let’s not confuse love with permissiveness. God has standards. He is longsuffering, but ultimately there are consequences. Also, let’s not confuse longsuffering with inattentiveness. God is not pushy. He allows circumstances to give people opportunities to make the right decision. Some make the wrong decision, and because they don’t get zapped right away, they think God doesn’t care or isn’t even there. That is, until the consequences fall, and then, unfortunately, it is too late. God is loving, but he is also a God of justice. Longsuffering is due to his love, but that only lasts for a time. Justice eventually comes.

So, we don’t know what or how God was dealing with the Amorites, but there are some clues. Granted, what I am about to say is hard to substantiate fully, but there is circumstantial evidence. Before the flood, there were giants called Nephilim who apparently came from angels intermarrying with human women (Gn 6:2). Their offspring became men of renown who were all but worshipped (Gn 6:4). This was part of the reason for the flood. Mankind’s genetics were getting infused with fallen angel DNA. This was one of Satan’s plans to destroy God’s plan. He failed. Yet, Satan is relentless. Somehow, Satan became influential with the Amorites. They were known to have abandoned themselves to his worship, such as child sacrifice and sexual religious rites. It is likely they allowed him to lead then into genetic manipulation to produce giants again so he could again obtain something similar to what he had accomplished prior to the flood.

The angels who Satan had used to create the Nephilim were punished by being abandoned to Tartarus, a special place built for these angels in Sheol (2Pt 2:4). I find it interesting that Satan kept himself just distanced enough to not get caught in the consequences. Here, he goes to the line without crossing it. The Amorites, although influenced, followed willingly. The Amorites likely were influenced to intermarry in a way that giants were again produced in the land. Why? To prevent the Israelites from gaining the land of Canaan God had promised to Abraham. How do we know this? Just look at a map where these giants were located. The sons of Anak were giants and the ones who intimidated the Israelites the first time they tried to enter (Nu 13:31-14:10). Ten of these twelve spies influenced all of Israel they could not take the land. These giants lived in the southern and southwest region of Canaan. Then there were giants in the southeastern region of Canaan (Sihon was the king of these Amorites; Nu 21:21-25), and giants in the land of Bashan (Og was their king; Nu 21:31-35), the northeast region of Canaan. Therefore, these giants were almost like sentries around the land.

So, it seems the Amorites refused God’s promptings. God was longsuffering for almost five centuries. Justice was now due. God was now going to fulfill his promise to Abraham through the Israelites and use them to deliver his justice to the Amorites and their descendants who followed their practices. Through Moses and Joshua, God had the Israelites break through the giant barricade and they were now in the land he had promised them. Although justice was delivered starting at Jericho, we also see God’s mercy for individuals who responded to God even if their nation did not. God was always about inclusion. The nation did not agree, but Rahab and her family did.

This helps us see that God has plans within plans to achieve his master plan. We don’t always know what he is doing or how he is doing it, but we can trust him that he wants the best for us and is always looking for ways to include others and offering opportunities for people to make the right decisions. Therefore, that makes it easier for us to respond to him with faith and trust. We don’t have to understand him to trust him, we just have to trust him and allow understanding to slowly reveal itself.

Randy DockensComment
Pass It On

When you have something good, you want to pass it on, right? That’s how God feels. As we saw in the previous post, God wanted Israel to be separate from the world but not exclude the world: i.e., he wanted Israel to pass it on. Israel was to be the example for all to follow. To demonstrate this to them, he gave them an example immediately after they entered the Promised Land.

Before they entered the land of Canaan, Joshua had two spies go into Jericho and check things out (Js 2:1). A woman by the name of Rahab hid them at one point to help ensure they were not found out (Js 2:4). These spies reported back to Joshua that the people of Jericho feared the Israelites and now was the appropriate time to take the land as their own (Js 2:24).

The people of Israel first had to cross the Jordan River. Joshua used this as a faith-building exercise. If God could get them safely across the river which was swollen due to the Spring rains, then surely he could deliver Jericho into their hands (Js 3:10). As soon as the feet of the priests who carried the Ark of the Covenant touched the water of the river, it parted, and everyone entered Canaan on dry land (Js 3:13-17). After crossing the river, they all encamped at Gilgal (Js 3:19), approximately ten miles from Jericho. When the people of Canaan heard how God parted the Jordan River for them to cross, they all feared the Israelites (Js 5:1). This gave Joshua the opportunity to stop and renew their covenant with God by having all the males circumcised (Js 5:2-9). This was around the tenth day of the first month.

On the fourteenth day of the first month, they held Pesach (Passover; Js 5:10). The next day (Matzah or feast of Unleavened Bread), they ate unleavened bread and roasted grain from their new land (Js 5:11). The next day, the manna which God had fed them for forty years ceased and they ate the produced from their new land (Js 5:12). This would have represented their first Bikkurim (or feast of Firstfruit). Joshua then had to let the men completely heal, get them battle ready, and have all the people travel the ten miles to Jericho. It is likely it would have taken the men approximately two weeks to recover from the pain and soreness of their circumcision. Then it is likely it would have taken about a month to group and train the men to prepare for battle and go over battle strategy.

While it is true they expected God to fight their battle for them as he had said (Js 6:2), I’m sure Joshua wanted to have a regimen of fighting men that would be under his strict authority—just in case. Then, it is likely it would have taken a few days to get all the people—close to two million of them—to travel the ten miles, get camped and ready for what God was going to do for them. They then marched around the city once a day for seven days and then seven times on the seventh day(Js 6:4, 12-15). Adding up all this time of preparation, it is not hard to imagine it took them approximately 50 days after their first Bikkurim until the walls of Jericho fell. That would place this time of the conquering of Jericho around Shavuot (Pentecost). As we stated previously, this is the feast of inclusion and that is what happened here.

Once the walls fell on the seventh day of their marching, the Israelites took the city and killed everyone in the city, except for Rahab and her household (Js 6:17, 21-22). Rahab and her family were spared just as the spies had stated. Therefore, Rahab who was a Canaanite, a Gentile, was allowed to live as an Israelite. She married Salmon who was of the tribe of Judah. She and Salmon had a son named Boaz (Mt 1:5) who also became an instrument of inclusion which God used to show this pattern of inclusion again. We’ll discuss that next time.

Don’t you find it interesting that this story in the Bible, which became a most notorious story of all the Biblical stories, fell on Shavuot which God had instituted as a feast to represent inclusion and a feast where paradigm shifts occurred? God doesn’t shove it in their faces and say, “Look, I’m showing you what this feast is about.” No, he lets the realization of what he is doing seep in subtly. Not everyone would get it, but those who paid attention would. While others were screaming, we are God’s chosen people, keep others at bay, God was saying, no, see, I’m giving you examples for you to follow. Follow my lead and be the example, the banner, the ambassador I want you to be for the world. God is still the God of Inclusion. Are you acting that way or are you also trying to keep others at bay. Your future is sure and that is all that matters. But is it supposed to be that way? What if others before you did that? Would you have a relationship with God now if they had that same attitude. God was saying to the Israelites to pass on what he had taught them. He’s still saying the same thing today.

Randy DockensComment
A Pattern of Inclusion
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Everyone wants to feel included, don’t they? Don’t you? Remember those elementary school games where sides were chosen. One by one the teams were formed. Always the best athletic ones were chosen first. The rest of us were chosen last. Even worse was when there was an odd number and the captains had to decide who would take the last one. That one had to hear the reasons why he shouldn’t be on each team and then one reluctantly allows this, now deflated and ego-broken soul, on their team. Those were the good ole days, right?

Did things really get better as you got older? Sometimes. But, often, the ways of exclusion get subtler and more sophisticated, but the exclusion was still there and still hurt just as much. Why is this? And why does it bleed into every area of one’s life, including religion?

Yet, this was not God’s plan. Believe it or not, God had a plan of inclusion from the very beginning. Does that surprise you? Maybe your thinking about Israel being God’s chosen people. That sounds exclusionary, doesn’t it? Yet, it isn’t. Or, rather, wasn’t supposed to be that way. Let’s discuss these steps of inclusion that God wanted from the beginning.

As you’ve noticed, if you have read many of my posts, a lot of them center around the Jewish feasts. Why is that? Because they are the secret to God’s word and gives us an insight into God’s heart. This time, we’re focusing on Shavuot. This occurred fifty days after Bikkurim, or the feast of Firstfruit. In the land of Israel, this was around the time of the wheat harvest. Yet, the very first Shavuot occurred out in the desert, around Mt. Sinai. Why? Because it set the whole stage of not only what God wanted to do for Israel, but with Israel as well.

How do we know this was the first Shavuot? Recall that the first Pesach (Passover) occurred as the children of Israel made a mass exodus from Egypt. Here is the order of events over the next fifty days:

  • —  Left Egypt: 15th day of 1st month (Nu 33:3 – 1st day of Unleavened Bread)

  • —  Day 1: 16th day of 1st month (First Fruit)

  • —  Day 46: Arrived at Sinai 1st day of 3rd month (Ex 19:1)

  • —  Days 46-47: 2 days of consecration of people (Ex 19:10-11)

  • —  Day 48: God appeared as thunder, lightning, smoke and fire on the mountain, the mountain shook, and God spoke in thunder (Ex 19:16-20). God called Moses up to the mountain, gave him the 10 commandments and other laws; Aaron, his sons and 70 elders of Israel also on mountain worshipped at a distance (Ex 19:20 – 24:3)

  • —  Day 49: Moses wrote down all the words God had given him (Ex 24:4)

  • —  Day 50: Moses read the Book of the Covenant to them, they agreed to it and Moses offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, consecrated the people with “the blood of the covenant.” Moses, Aaron, his sons, and 70 elders of Israel ate with God (likely the Pre-Incarnate Christ) (Ex 24: 4-11)


What’s that you say? Starting to sound exclusionary? Before any agency can help everyone, it must be set up by a select few. This is sort of what was happening here. Yes, God did call them his “chosen people” (Ex 19:5). But, we need to understand why he said that. This was not a statement of exclusion, but a statement of responsibility. They were chosen to be priests to the world (Ex 19:6). That is, they were to be the standard for all other nations to follow. They had been created as a nation here at Mt. Sinai to be the model for other to follow. Starting to sound more inclusionary? Let’s not forget that inclusion does not come without requirements, consequences, and change, but it also comes with many blessings and rewards.

So, this is why Israel was created. Israel was the standard, the banner of God to the world. This was the first step of God’s inclusion for everyone. Did it work? Well, it could have. It could have been glorious. But, no, it failed. Why? Pride. Pride is always exclusionary and never inclusionary. The words “chosen people” became a battle cry rather than an invitation. Consequences occurred.

Yet, God did not give up. He continued to use Shavuot as an example of inclusion. We’ll look at one of those examples next time. Let’s remember that just because God expects change, he is not being exclusionary, but is offering a way of inclusion into something he has for us that will be even more glorious. And that requires faith. Faith is the key. Faith is the pride destroyer.

Randy DockensComment
Beyond Imagination
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Have you ever made plans to go somewhere, and even though you heard about it, everything you had heard paled in comparison to what you actually observed once you arrived? This was Ezekiel’s plight—and will be our future plight. When something is beyond words, you don’t want to miss out on it.

We’ve already talked a lot about what Ezekiel saw. Yet, the wonders seem to go on and on. We discussed the temple complex and how large it is (about three football fields square). Yet, that is set in a complex that is roughly 8 miles square! This is called the Holy Portion which is further divided into three rectangles. The top rectangle, a little more than 3 miles by 8 miles, is for the Levites. These are those individuals who help in all aspects of temple worship, except for offering sacrifices. The same size rectangle below this one, and in which the temple is located, is for the priests. These are those individuals who are allowed to offer sacrifices at the temple. Although these sections of land are devoted to the priests and Levites, this doesn’t mean it will be devoid of others, and businesses and restaurants. These will be very busy places as people from around the world will come here to offer sacrifices and see their King.

The rectangle below these two, a little over 1.5 miles by 8 miles, completing the larger square, is where the city of Jerusalem will be located. It will be a square in the center of this rectangle with farming to support the city population occurring on both sides. This is likely where king David and the Prince will reside.

As already stated, a stream will flow out from the Holy of Holies of the temple and flow east. This stream becomes deeper and deeper every one-third mile and turns into a river. Some have denoted this as “the Ezekiel River” since this was part of the vision God gave to Ezekiel. Along both sides of this river is a grove of trees. At some point, the river flows over the escarpment which has plunged the city to be high above the surrounding land. Once the river goes over the escarpment, it flows between the two Mounts of Olive (which split in two at the Messiah’s return), and then flows into the Jordan River in the distance and into what is today called the Dead Sea. Yet, this sea will now team with live fish and fresh water.

On both sides of this larger square where the priests, Levites, city of Jerusalem, and temple reside is more farm land which will be owned by the Prince. From the Prince’s fields will come the burnt offerings, grain offerings, and drink offering for festivals, new moon celebrations, and Sabbaths. In addition, those who live within the land of Israel will, in essence, tithe to the Prince of their abundance. They will donate approximately 15% of their wheat and barley, approximately 1% of their olive oil, and 0.5 percent of their sheep. The Prince will use these for fellowship offerings and grain offerings for the people.

This Holy Portion is the inheritance for the Prince and his children. Above and below this Holy Portion is the inheritance given to each of the tribes of Israel. This Holy Portion will lie between the inheritance given to Judah and Benjamin.

So, as you can see, God gave Ezekiel an overwhelming vision—something both he, and even we today, can look forward to. Ezekiel was concerned about his people and their beloved temple and if both would be lost to them forever. God gave Ezekiel an emphatic ‘no’! Not only would it return but be so much grander than anyone could ever imagine. I’m sure Ezekiel was blown away. I’m sure he was overcome with joy in how exceedingly generous God is with us despite our selfishness. We may lose heart and faith, but God is always faithful and never forgets his promises. So, come on and join in his promises. Our future is a grand one: a future beyond our imagination. Don’t you want to experience that? Of course, you do. It only takes a little faith and for you to admit your future cannot be on your on merit, but only through the merit of the one who will give us all we want and more—beyond our imagination!

Randy DockensComment
Prince?

Of all the remarkable things in the book of Ezekiel, probably the term “Prince” has to be one of the more interesting and controversial. Let’s take a look at this.

Who is this Prince? Some have stated it is referring to the Messiah, Jesus Christ, himself. Others say it is the Old Testament King David now serving as the Messiah’s, the King of kings’, viceroy. Others have proposed someone else entirely. So, why the confusion? For one, these passages of scripture are not very specific. Secondly, we expect certain things based upon what other scriptures tell us, and we try to make it all fit. But, should we? I think if we take a step back, we can put some of the clues given in Ezekiel with these other passages of scripture about God’s promises to David and formulate a scenario which makes it all fit seamlessly without having to put a round peg in a square hole, so to speak.

I think it is fairly easy to eliminate the first assertion above, that this Prince could be Jesus Christ. After all, if Jesus is the King of kings and has his throne in the Holy of Holies, and is the object of everyone’s worship, then this could not be Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the King of kings. After all, this Prince is the one leading everyone in worship of the King of kings (Ek 45:17, 22). Therefore, it would make sense it would be someone different from him. 

What about this Prince being King David? I think the confusion for this comes in because of the passage in Ezekiel which states, “I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken” (Ek 34:24). I think the term “prince” in this passage is showing the hierarchy in David’s relationship with God, the ultimate ruler. He will be of authority, but not ultimate authority. In addition, although subtle, there is no definite article with the use of this term “prince.” Therefore, I think this gives additional credence that this is a term of hierarchy than position. In addition, the Prince will be mortal and have children (Ek 46:16-17). David will be part of the first resurrection, have a glorified body, and will not marry and have children (Mt 22:30).

David, will, however, also be a king and rule over Israel (Ek 27:24). If Jesus Christ is to be the King of kings during this time, this would imply there will be many kings and Jesus will be the King over all other kings (Rv 19:16). There will be many nations during Christ’s kingdom (Is 62:2; Zc 14:16; Rv 20:3). So, just as there will be other kings over other territories, David will be the king over Israel during this time (Ek 37:24).

So, if Christ is the King of kings, and David is one of the many kings who will reign under the direction of Christ in his Kingdom, who is this Prince? From passages in Ezekiel, it suggests that this Prince will lead the people of the world in the worship of the Messiah, the King of kings, Jesus Christ. He will offer sacrifice for himself and for the people (Ek 45:22), he will be able to have children (Ek 46:17-18), and he will receive an inheritance of land like the tribes of Israel (Ek 45:7.18). From these passages, we gather this Prince is an Israelite and is mortal, as he will not have a glorified body. That would mean he had to come out of the Tribulation as a believer. This would give him a unique perspective for the people as he would understand the horrors of the world prior to Christ establishing his Kingdom, understand the importance of the people’s need to accept their King as the hope for their future, and will understand the importance of the sacrifices and what they mean for the people, and be able to teach them these things.

Because he came out of the Tribulation as a mortal, it would mean God had this plan for this one before Christ’s Kingdom was ever set up. That would at least suggest this one may have been one of the 144,000 prophets (Rv 7:4) who evangelize the world during the Tribulation as their lives would be protected (Rv 7:2-4) and would be assured to survive into the Promised Kingdom. This is not a guarantee of this, but, I think, is suggestive. Therefore, it would be plausible this one who becomes the Prince is from the tribe of Judah, where Jerusalem is located, and is one of these prophets the Lords raises up to evangelize the world before his return.

So, here is the hierarchy: Christ sets up his Promised Kingdom and reigns as the King of kings in Jerusalem. David reigns in his glorified state as the king of Israel during this time, just as other glorified ones will reign as king of other nations at this time. The Prince, non-glorified, will also live in Jerusalem, as he is an Israelite who will lead the people of the world in the worship of the King of kings and help the people of the world realize that Christ is not only their King, but also their Savior and their future hope for eternal life. While one-thousand years is a long time, it is still finite. Those born during this time must still chose Christ as their Savior and their hope, just as we do today, and this Prince will be instrumental in helping them see this need for their eternal future.

It’s interesting that God always seems to manifest and work in a triune manner. He is Trinity (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), the city of Jerusalem becomes three sections during his Kingdom (Rv 16:19), and the spiritual authority is also triune: Christ, the King of kings is the object of worship, David is the king of Israel, the nation leading the other nations in the worship of Christ, and the Prince is the one who can identify with the mortals of this time and lead them in the specific worship of Christ, their King, and their Messiah.

What about you? Are you going to be around to be part of all of this and witness it first-hand? Do you want to? Then take a note from Ezekiel and yield to this One who is now and forever the King of kings, the Messiah, and the Hope of your eternal future.

Randy DockensComment
Something New but Familiar

It seems it always helps when you experience something new to also have something familiar with which to reference. This is what Ezekiel experienced. In previous posts we discovered that his thoughts were on the temple since he was in captivity in Babylon. God gave him a vision of a new temple that would be established in the future. While many things were new and different, it had a feeling of familiarity at the same time.

The size of the temple complex is something to consider. If you take a football field and put three end-to-end both in width and length, that would be about the size of it. That’s quite the size, isn’t it? However, the size of the temple itself didn’t change much from that of previous temples. The size of the entire tabernacle could almost fit inside the temple structure of Solomon’s temple, although the entire complex was much larger. Yet, the size of Solomon’s temple was basically equivalent to that of Herod’s temple and of the temple in Ezekiel’s vision. The size of the entire complex of each temple did increase with each successive temple.

The tabernacle, Solomon’s temple, and Herod’s temple had a bronze altar, a laver, a menorah, a table of shewbread, and an altar of incense. Herod’s temple did not have the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat as those were lost in Ezekiel’s day when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the temple. The temple in Ezekiel’s vision had only the bronze altar and the altar of incense. We discussed this briefly previously. All the other elements had been fulfilled by Christ: the laver represents the word of God which cleanses from sin (Ep 5:26). Christ is the living word of God (Jn 1:1) and is physically present. The menorah represents Christ as the light of the world (Jn 9:5), the table of shewbread represents Christ as the bread of life (Jn 6:35), the ark of the covenant represents Christ’s glory dwelling in the Holy of Holies (Ek 43:7), and the mercy seat represents Christ as the propitiation for sin and is already completed (1Jn 2:2). The bronze altar represents that atonement is still needed for those born, and the altar of incense represents the prayers of thanksgiving by those who have accepted Christ’s atonement for one’s sins and who is the hope of their future.

The bronze altar is arranged in a tier fashion and has steps leading up its eastern side. It is interesting that in Solomon’s temple this was a ramp instead of steps and was located on the southern side of the altar. This altar is quite large, being 10.5 feet high with its top being 21 ft sq. It would seem the priests will have to be quite strong to carry these sacrifices up these steps and get them close to the center of the altar.

It seems that the same sacrifices as previously made will now continue: burnt offerings, peace (fellowship) offerings, sin offerings, trespass (guilt) offerings, grain (meat) offerings. Why is this? Sacrifices are now needed for three basic reasons: (1) because a theocracy is re-established where sin must be dealt with when part of the sinless Trinity is physically present, (2) it seems death no longer occurs as there is no additional resurrection of the righteous dead mentioned in scripture, (3) sacrifices were always symbolic for they never took away sin and faith has always been required. All of these reasons help those born during this time to see their need for accepting Christ their King as their Savior and the Hope for their future.

It also seems that four of the seven feasts typically celebrated each year (Lv 23) will still be celebrated during this time: Pesach (Passover), Matzah (Unleavened Bread), Bikkurim (Firstfruit), and Sukkot (Tabernacles). While these have been fulfilled, these are still needed because these feasts represent the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, as well as his literal dwelling with his people. The other three are already fulfilled and are not needed: Shavuot (Pentecost) – the giving of the Holy Spirit; Rosh Hashanah (Trumpets) – God remembering his covenant with Israel (Tribulation Period), Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement) – God forgiving Israel of their sins (at Christ’s return).

As you can see, there will be many similar things that have been reshaped and slightly different. What is familiar has been reshaped for the needs of the new age. These things will help those who are already bound to their Messiah, their King, a new way to celebrate and worship him. These things will help those who need to make a decision about their King a way to understand their need to accept him. What is new will also be familiar.

This is going to be an amazing time. I hope you are making plans to not miss it. Something so wonderful should not be missed.