Ezekiel declared, “Thus says the Lord GOD: This is Jerusalem; I have set her in the center of the nations, with countries round about her” Ezek 5:5.
The Very Center of Creation
Talmud Yoma 54b says that Jerusalem was the very center of creation. The most important object in Jerusalem was the Ark of the Covenant. It stood in the Holy of Holies on a bedrock called the even shtia, the Foundation Stone, the foundation of the universe, the point at which our Father began the act of creation. The sages add that since the Foundation Stone unites all spiritual forces there must be a spiritual realm where they all come together. The sages call it “Jerusalem on High.”
Midrash Tankhuma, Kodashim, § 10, adds,
As the navel is set in the center of the human body, so is the land of Israel the navel of the world… situated in the center of the world, and Jerusalem in the center of the land of Israel, and the sanctuary in the center of Jerusalem, and the holy place in the center of the sanctuary, and the ark in the center of the holy place, and the foundation stone before the holy place, because from it the world was founded.
Scientists believe the universe is about 13.7 billion years old. The Milky Way is said to be about 13.6 billion years old, plus or minus about 800 million years. Adding only 400 million years puts the Milky Way right at the origin of the universe. Allowing time for stars originating in the big bang at the even shtia moving at the speed of light to reach their positions in the galaxy, the origins of the universe and the Milky Way, and therefore the even shtia, match neatly.
Crossroads of the World
The Holy Land was the crossroads of the ancient world. There were two great land masses: Eurasia and Africa. The only way to travel between them was through the Holy Land. There are mountains in Israel where water spilled onto the western slope will eventually flow into the Atlantic Ocean, while water spilled on the eastern slope of the same mountain will eventually flow into the Pacific Ocean. Today one can sail from the Atlantic to the Pacific through the Suez Canal, but in the ancient days a shipment of goods between the Atlantic and the Pacific passed by overland caravan through the Holy Land. Thus, travelers from every part of the world had to pass through the Holy Land and so be exposed to the Torah.
And more than the Torah! The main crossing was near Mt. Hermon (Hebrew: khermon), an awesome three-summit mountain cluster, its highest peaks more than 9,000 feet above sea level. Our Father knew at the Creation that he would need a truly memorable sign for the time when Rabbi Yeshua would reveal the Holy Trinity first to his early followers and later to the world. From Mt. Hermon flows the Jordan River, where Yokhanan HaMatbil baptized Rabbi Yeshua. The entire Holy Trinity was present for the event! “And when Jesus was baptized, he went up immediately from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and alighting on him; and behold, a voice from heaven, saying, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’” Mt 3:16–17.
The hills of HaGalil, the Galilee region of northern Israel, usually have rounded summits rather than sharp peaks. Without the snow, or seen from a different angle, Mt. Hermon might not look like a sign of the Holy Trinity but merely resemble the surrounding hills. In this Mt. Hermon reminds us of the Shma, which did not look Trinitarian before Rabbi Yeshua revealed the Holy Trinity, but after he did we began to see that its Trinitarian signs had been plainly visible all the time.
Jerusalem for the Light of the World
Jerusalem rests on the crest of a north-south chain of mountains. Its lowest point is more than two thousand feet above the Mediterranean Sea. The hilly city is surrounded on all sides by valleys. Even its neighborhoods are often divided by deep valleys. Jerusalem was visible to most travelers from east to west and back again. “ A city set on a hill cannot be hid.… Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” Mt 5:14–16. God wrote our humble pilgrim journey to Jerusalem on High into the very earth! And so the ancient refrain, “Next year in Jerusalem,” expresses the longing for travel to Jerusalem, but much more for spiritual nearness to God.
Blood and History
Every square inch of Jerusalem’s holy ground is drenched in blood and history, in sin and salvation. When Rome destroyed the Temple in AD 70, only the Western Wall, one of four exterior walls surrounding the Temple, survived. It immediately became the world’s most holy site accessible to the Jewish nation. According to Jewish tradition, God promised to protect some part of the Temple as a sign of his continuing bond with the people Israel. At the Western Wall Jews intensely pray the three traditional daily prayer services as well as additional prayers for shabat and the holy days.
From the Western Wall it is only a fifteen minute walk to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the site where Rabbi Yeshua was crucified and entombed. In AD 326 St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, followed the Catholic oral tradition to the true site of Rabbi Yeshua’s crucifixion where she discovered remnants of the true Cross. She also discovered the tomb and, on Constantine’s instructions, marked it by raising a basilica. The six churches with historic ties to the Holy Sepulchre—Latin Rite Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenians, Syrians, Copts and Ethiopians—have produced a warren of sites spread across a number of levels looking as if at war with one another. Watching them argue passionately over even the smallest change brings to mind Rabbi Yeshua’s prayer “that they may be one, even as we are one” Jn 17:11, 21. Yet, Jerusalem’s Jews and Christians at their most holy sites share in common their radical transformation of hearts. The passionate love for God that has made them his image and likeness will one day lead us to Jerusalem on High.
Moses Gives the Law
“When Moses came down from Mount Sinai, with the two tables of the testimony in his hand as he came down from the mountain, Moses did not know that the skin of his face shone because he had been talking with God” Ex 34:29.
The original Hebrew for “the skin of his face shone” was karan or panav. Karan (was giving off rays of light) or (skin) panav (his face). This or is a Hebrew word meaning “skin,” not an English word implying two alternatives.
St. Jerome’s Latin Vulgate Bible, translated karan as cornuta, horns. St. Jerome knew that the Septuagint translated karan as rays of splendor. He saw Moses reading the Word of God before the whole people of Israel as the personification of Old Testament authority and power, one sent by God to teach the people Israel. And so he translated karan as cornuta. Authority and power came from Moses’ head. The Catholic Church understands that Moses’ cornuta are rays of splendor.
The word karan literally means something that rises above a surface. Its plural, karnaim, is used mostly for sunrays or horns, but also in the ancient Temple for the kohen’s fingers as he gives the congregation Moses‘ blessing: “The Lord bless you and keep you: The Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you: The Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace” Num 6:24–26.
During this blessing the kohen’s fingers are split as a double-v, giving an appearance of rays or horns. Excluding the thumb, the first two fingers are together, then there is a v-split, and then the last two fingers are together. Leonard Nimoy, who grew up an observant Jew and saw the blessing in his synagogue, used it in the original Star Trek series for his famous Vulcan Salute, “live long and prosper.”
Horns have been a Hebrew sign of authority and power since the Old Testament days. We see horns on the Tabernacle altar. “And you shall make horns for it on its four corners; its horns shall be of one piece with it” Ex 27:2. “Aaron shall make atonement upon its horns once a year; with the blood of the sin offering of atonement he shall make atonement for it once in the year throughout your generations; it is most holy to the Lord” Ex 30:10. Horns have been a Hebrew sign of authority and power since the Old Testament days. We see horns on the Tabernacle altar. “And you shall make horns for it on its four corners; its horns shall be of one piece with it” Ex 27:2. “Aaron shall make atonement upon its horns once a year; with the blood of the sin offering of atonement he shall make atonement for it once in the year throughout your generations; it is most holy to the Lord” Ex 30:10.
Moses Foreshadows Rabbi Yeshua
Moses’ radiance pre-figured a much greater radiance to come. “He was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his garments became white as light.” Mt 17:2. Rabbi Yeshua’s transfiguration itself pre-figured his glorified body which he would serve the shlikhim at the Last Supper and all Catholics at Holy Communion. Moses’ radiance, Rabbi Yeshua‘s transfiguration, and Holy Communion all share the Sistine image: God reaching out to man. And still more. The Jews standing witness knew this from memory:
Then came Amalek and fought with Israel at Rephidim. And Moses said to Joshua, ‘Choose for us men, and go out, fight with Amalek; tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand.’ So Joshua did as Moses told him, and fought with Amalek; and Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands grew weary; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat upon it, and Aaron and Hur held up his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; so his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua mowed down Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword Ex 17:8–13.
They must have observed that Moses’ hands were in the position of Rabbi Yeshua’s hands nailed to the Cross.
They knew too that Moses had promised: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brethren—him you shall heed” Deut 18:15. Moses‘ Hebrew word that RSV2CE translates as “heed” is tishmaun, you shall hear, from the root shma. It sets up a connection between the Shma, the summary of all the Torah, and the Messiah to come who would fulfill the Shma Mt 5:17. And the promise was fulfilled. Rabbi Philippos told Rabbi Nathanael: “We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph” Jn 1:45. Rabbi Yeshua confirmed it. “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me” Jn 5:46.
Moses had been the greatest of the Old Testament Hebrew prophets until the time of Rabbi Yokhanan HaMatbil. “And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face” Deut 34:10. He had led God’s chosen people out of Egypt and across the desert to Mt. Sinai. He had stood before God himself to receive the Torah. He had given the Torah faithfully to the people. After so much, would one sin keep him out of the promised land? Yes, Moses knew that God’s law was based on integral observance, that obedience to God is indivisible, and that Adam and Eve lost paradise for one mortal sin. “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it” Jas 2:10.
From the top of Mt. Nebo on a clear day a vast expanse of the land of Israel is visible, all of Galilee, Samaria, and Judea, as far as Jerusalem and the edge of the Mediterranean Sea.
“And Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the LORD showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan, all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the western sea, the Negev, and the Plain, that is, the valley of Jericho the city of palm trees, as far as Zoar. And the LORD said to him, ‘This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there’” Deut 34:1–4.
Catholics see Moses’ burial in the sight of Israel as a prophecy of the Messiah to come. God promised a new Moses: “The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brethren—him you shall heed” Deut 18:15. Rabbi Yeshua replied, “If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote of me” Jn 5:46.
Moses’ punishment was temporal, not eternal. God forgives those who love him. When Rabbi Yeshua went to sheol and brought up the virtuous souls, Moses was among them. Holy Mother Church teaches: “The patriarchs, prophets and other personalities of the Old Testament have been venerated and always will be venerated as saints in the liturgical tradition of the Oriental Church as also of the Latin Church.”1
After Moses’ earthly life was complete, our Father told Joshua, “Moses my servant is dead; now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land which I am giving to them, to the people of Israel” Josh 1:2.
Foreshadow of Rabbi Yeshua
Joshua, Yehoshua, of the tribe of Ephraim Num 13:8, led the Israelites into the promised land. The small people with a large destiny crossed the Jordan River into the promised land of Canaan. “And while all Israel were passing over on dry ground, the priests who bore the Ark of the Covenant of the Lord stood on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan” Josh 3:17. They called the land Israel in honor of Jacob, whose name God changed to Israel Gen 32:28.
Rabbi Yeshua led his people across living water to the promised kingdom of heaven. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God” Jn 3:3. “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” Rom 6:4.
The land of Canaan had been named for Ham’s son Canaan. We recall that Noah had cursed his son Ham by cursing Ham’s son Canaan, and we recall Noah’s prophecy, “Blessed by the Lord my God be Shem; and let Canaan be his slave” Gen 9:26. With the arrival of the Israelites in the land of Canaan, Noah’s prophecy was about to be fulfilled.
By the time of Moses, Canaan’s descendants and other pagans lived all over the land. “The Amalekites dwell in the land of the Negev; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the hill country; and the Canaanites dwell by the sea, and along the Jordan” Num 13:29. The Jebusites were “the inhabitants of Jerusalem.”
A People Apart
Moses had commanded the Israelites,
When the Lord your God brings you into the land which you are entering to take possession of it, and clears away many nations before you, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites … then you must utterly destroy them; you shall make no covenant with them, and show no mercy to them. You shall not make marriages with them, giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons. For they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods; then the anger of the Lord would be kindled against you, and he would destroy you quickly. But thus shall you deal with them: you shall break down their altars, and dash in pieces their pillars, and hew down their Asherim, and burn their graven images with fire Deut 7:1–5.
He repeated for emphasis:
You shall save alive nothing that breathes, but you shall utterly destroy them,… that they may not teach you to do according to all their abominable practices which they have done in the service of their gods, and so to sin against the Lord your God. Deut 20:16–18.
The Israelites were to change Canaan into Israel by killing its inhabitants to remove every trace of pagan practice from the land. How can we reconcile such a seemingly violent command with a merciful God?3
The answer becomes apparent when we consider the true nature of the Canaanite tribes. The Hebrew word for demon is shed, plural shedim. It comes from the root shmd, which means destruction, violence, havoc. “[Satan] was a murderer from the beginning” Jn 8:44. The “gods” the pagans worshiped were shedim. “They sacrificed to demons which were [not the true God], to gods they had never known, to new gods that had come in of late, whom your fathers had never dreaded” Deut 32:17.
The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons 1 Cor 10:16–21.
Reason tells us that no inanimate object or animal can possibly have spiritual power over a human being, because they are lower in the hierarchy of creation. However, according to Hebrew tradition, a demon can deceive and manipulate men by making an inanimate object or lower animal appear to have godlike or magic power. Each demon, in his extreme pride, love of self, wants to be worshiped as a god, an echo of the serpent’s lie in Eden. “You will be like God” Gen 3:5.
The demons know that man is God’s image and likeness Gen 1:27. They often attack God by enticing men to debase and mutilate God’s image and likeness. “And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them” 1 Kings 18:28. “They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; they poured out innocent blood” Ps 106:37–38. “They built the high places of Baal in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin” Jer 32:35. And, “You took your sons and your daughters, whom you had borne to me, and these you sacrificed to them to be devoured. Were your harlotries so small a matter that you slaughtered my children and delivered them up as an offering by fire to them?” Ezek 16:20-21.
God understood the dangerous and occult nature of these people who lived in Canaan. Their tribes, from the highest chieftain to the smallest child, were saturated by an intransigent spirit of evil. Therefore, our Father, by commanding the children of Israel to utterly destroy the pagans, was teaching them to do for themselves, with his help, what he had done for them when he flooded the earth, destroying evil while keeping alive the faithful remnant.
Territories of the Twelve Tribes
Each tribe was given a separate territory in Canaan, except for the tribe of Levi, which was set apart to serve in the Tabernacle. Because Jacob-Israel adopted Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, as his own and blessed them, Joseph’s territory was doubled. They became separate tribes with separate territories. “For the people of Joseph were two tribes, Manasseh and Ephraim; and no portion was given to the Levites in the land, but only cities to dwell in, with their pasture lands for their cattle and their substance” Josh 14:4. And so, based on their positions around the Tabernacle and on territory, the eastern tribes were Judah, Issachar and Zebulun. The southern tribes were Reuben, Simeon, and Gad. The western tribes were Ephraim, Manasseh, and Benjamin. And the northern tribes were Dan, Asher, and Naphtali.
Our Father began by telling Joshua, a foreshadow of Yeshua, to take twelve men from among the people, as Rabbi Yeshua would later do, as witnesses to God. Then he told Joshua to circumcise the men of Israel, to baptize them into his covenant. Joshua obeyed, even as Rabbi Yeshua obeyed our Father.
“When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man stood before him with his drawn sword in his hand” Josh 5:13. He told Joshua, “As commander of the army of the Lord I have now come” Josh 5:14. “Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and worshiped, and said to him, ‘What does my lord bid his servant?’” Josh 5:14. This was St. Michael the Archangel, from the drawn sword in his hand and his identity as commander of the Lord’s army, appearing as a man.4
St. Michael declared: “Put off your shoes from your feet; for the place where you stand is holy,” Josh 5:15, an echo of our Father’s command to Moses at the burning bush Ex 3:5, indicating that Joshua was to fight against Jericho in a purely spiritual and supernatural manner, to show that true victory always belongs to the Lord. Joshua put seven priests at the head of his army to accompany the Ark of the Covenant.
Then Joshua rose early in the morning, and the priests took up the ark of the Lord. And the seven priests bearing the seven trumpets of rams’ horns before the ark of the Lord passed on, blowing the trumpets continually; and the armed men went before them, and the rear guard came after the ark of the Lord, while the trumpets blew continually. And the second day they marched around the city once, and returned into the camp. So they did for six days. On the seventh day they rose early at the dawn of day, and marched around the city in the same manner seven times: it was only on that day that they marched around the city seven times. And at the seventh time, when the priests had blown the trumpets, Joshua said to the people, ‘Shout; for the Lord has given you the city’” Josh 6:12–16.
As time passed, Joshua knew that the Israelites would be constantly tempted. He told them, “Take good heed to yourselves, therefore, to love the Lord your God. For if you turn back, and join the remnant of these nations left here among you, and make marriages with them, so that you marry their women and they yours, know assuredly that the Lord your God will not continue to drive out these nations before you; but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a scourge on your sides, and thorns in your eyes, till you perish from off this good land which the Lord your God has given you” Josh 23:11–13.
As his hour drew near, Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem. He reviewed the centuries of history from Abraham to Moses of our Father’s faithfulness to his children, and told them, “And if you be unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell; but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” Josh 24:15.
The Israelites promised, ““The LORD our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey” Josh 24:24. “So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day … and he took a great stone, and set it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord. And Joshua said to all the people, ‘Behold, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord which he spoke to us; therefore it shall be a witness against you, lest you deal falsely with your God’” Josh 24:25–27.
“And Israel served the LORD all the days of Joshua” Josh 24:31.
But Israel’s dark intellects and weak wills soon again led them astray. After Joshua died, the children of Israel again committed the sin of Seth’s line that had led to the great flood Gen 6:2. Many Israelites married Canaanite women and took up their pagan culture.
Abounding in mercy and faithfulness Ex 34:6, our patient Father sent military leaders, called judges, to rule and rescue Israel, to lead it back to the Torah. Each time the Israelites broke the covenant God delivered them to an oppressor. Then the people would cry out, and each time our patient and loving God sent another judge. These judges were: Othniel 3:9–11, Ehud 3:15–30, Shamgar 3:31, Deborah 4:4–5:15, Gideon 6:11–8:30, Abimelech 9:6–54, Tola 10:1–2, Jair 10:3–5, Jephthah 11:11–12:7, Ibzan 12:8–10, Elon 12:11–12, Abdon 12:13–15, Samson 13:24–16:31, Eli 1 Sam 1:3–4:18, Samuel 1 Sam 7:15.
The Kings of Israel
A Man as King
Our Father had always taught his children that he was their true king, but when the Philistines loomed as a major threat, around 1030 BC, they asked instead for an earthly king. “Give us a king to govern us” 1 Sam 8:6. God had called Israel to be a people apart, but the people wanted to be like all the tribes around them. Our Father told Samuel, “They have rejected me from being king over them” 1 Sam 8:7. But, once again, he used their sin to gently teach them.
This time, our Father warned his children that the king, while God’s vicar, remains fully human and capable of sin. The prophet Samuel, God’s voice to Israel at that time, warned that a king “will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots” 1 Sam 8:11. “He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers” 1 Sam 8:13. But his children insisted, and our patient Father gave them the king they asked for. Their own words would shape their punishment. “By your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” Mt 12:37.
Saul: A Vicar Filled With Pride
A Vicar of God
Our Father lovingly taught his children that Saul was to be his vicar. “Samuel said to all the people, ‘Do you see him whom the Lord has chosen’ … and all the people shouted, ‘Long live the king’” 1 Sam 10:24. They knew their king was the Lord’s anointed. Samuel told Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore hearken to the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way, when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and strike Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and donkey’” 1 Sam 15:1–3. Saul’s responsibility as vicar was clear: “I will punish…” 1 Sam 15:2. “Now go and strike…” 1 Sam 15:3. “But Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them” 1 Sam 15:9.
The Son of God a thousand years later would say, “The sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” Jn 10:4–5. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” Jn 10:27. So often during our confessions we excuse our own sins. Adam blamed his wife. “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree” Gen 3:12. Aaron blamed the fire. “I threw it into the fire, and there came out this calf” Ex 32:24. Saul blamed the people. “But the people took of the spoil, sheep and oxen, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal” 1 Sam 15:21. Our excuses and defensive statements are offensive to God.
Still, Saul remained the Lord’s anointed. The people had to respect the Lord’s anointed even if it might cost their life. When Saul tried to kill David, David did not retaliate. “The Lord forbid that I should put forth my hand against the Lord’s anointed” 1 Sam 26:11. His Son gave Yehuda Ish Krayot a role in his redemptive sacrifice. We respect even bishops and priests who betray the Vicar of Christ because they remain the Lord’s ordained, even as we bring good from the evil they do through our own prayer, work, and sacrifice. Rabbi Yeshua told us, “Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required” Lk 12:48.
The prophet Samuel foretold that Saul would conquer the Philistines. Then Samuel told Saul, “You shall go down before me to Gilgal; and behold, I am coming to you to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice peace offerings. Seven days you shall wait, until I come to you and show you what you shall do” 1 Sam 10:8. Samuel was a priest, authorized to sacrifice.
But Saul usurped Samuel’s priestly authority. “He waited seven days, the time appointed by Samuel; but Samuel did not come to Gilgal, and the people were scattering from him. So Saul said, ‘Bring the burnt offering here to me, and the peace offerings.’ And he offered the burnt offering” 1 Sam 13:8–9. As soon as Saul completed the burnt offering, Samuel arrived and asked Saul what our Father had asked Cain, “What have you done?” Gen 4:10. Saul replied, “When I saw that the people were scattering from me, and that you did not come within the days appointed, … I forced myself, and offered the burnt offering” 1 Sam 13:11.
“I forced myself.” Saul’s conscience troubled him, but he did it anyway. Our Father used Saul to teach us even as his Son would later use Yehuda Ish Krayot to redeem us. We are called to be Christ for our own families, and for one another. If we are unfaithful, we too take upon ourselves the consequences.
God alone knows all the consequences of our sins! David, whom Saul had tried to kill, and not Saul’s son Jonathan, would be the next king of Israel. Samuel told Saul, “The Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel for ever” 1 Sam 13:13. Instead, the Lord told David, “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you … and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever” 2 Sam 7:12–13. Among David’s last words were, “For he has made with me an everlasting covenant” 2 Sam 23:5.
David: A Vicar After God’s Heart
David was Israel’s second vicar of God. He was of the tribe of Judah. “So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife; and he went in to her, and the Lord gave her conception, and she bore a son. Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without next of kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! Ruth 4:13–14. And the women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he was the father of Jesse, the father of David. Ruth 4:17. Boaz, by the law of the goel, brought Ruth into the line of David and the land of Israel.5
God told Samuel, “Fill your horn with oil, and go; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons” 1 Sam 16:1. Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel told Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen these” 1 Sam 16:10. Only
“And the Lord said, ‘Arise, anoint him; for this is he.’ Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward” 1 Sam 16:12–13.
David pre-figured Rabbi Yeshua in that both were born in Bethlehem and died in or near Jerusalem. David’s early shepherd life pre-figured Rabbi Yeshua’s life as the good shepherd Jn 10:11. David chose Jerusalem for his capital, where Abram had paid tithes to the priest-king Melchizedek Gen 14:20, who foreshadowed Rabbi Yeshua, where Abraham had offered Isaac as a sacrifice in another pre-figure Gen 22:10, and where Rabbi Yeshua would two thousand years later make his Final Sacrifice on Calvary.
David’s confrontation with Goliath was the echo of a similar match in heaven. When the seraph Lucifer rose up in rebellion, God sent Michael, an archangel, against him. A seraph would be many orders of magnitude more powerful than an archangel, but the archangel prevailed because God gave him strength. In this way, God’s supreme power became visible to us.
Again the confrontation was clearly between the forces of God and the forces of evil.
And when the Philistine looked, and saw David, he disdained him; for he was but a youth, ruddy and comely in appearance.… And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.… Then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the Lord will deliver you into my hand … that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord saves not with sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.” … And David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone, and slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell on his face to the ground. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and with a stone, and struck the Philistine, and killed him; there was no sword in the hand of David. 1 Sam 17:42–50.
David, a shepherd boy, could not have defeated Goliath, a battle-hardened soldier, by his own power. In this way again, God’s supreme power became visible.
David King of Israel
King David as God’s vicar surpassed every human ruler of Israel before him. After years of fighting among the tribes he welded them into a true nation. He moved the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, making it the City of God as well as Israel’s capital city. God gave him all that to show what, a thousand years later, God’s Mashiakh, Rabbi Yeshua, would offer his people Israel. He, “Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” Jn 17:11, and later, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!” Mt 23:37.
You Are the Man
But even David king of Israel participated in our fallen nature. “It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking upon the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful” 2 Sam 11:2 David sent for Bathsheba and slept with her, usurping what rightly belonged to Uriah.
When we sin, our intellect becomes darker and our will weaker. David tried to escape from the grave sin of adultery by committing another grave sin, deception. He tried to get Bathsheba’s husband Uriah to sleep with her so everyone would assume the child was Uriah’s 2 Sam 11:13. When Uriah refused, David then committed a third grave sin by sending Uriah out to be killed, usurping what rightly belonged to God 2 Sam 11:15.
David still had the great gifts our Father had given him. Our Father sent Nathan to David. Nathan asked David to judge a case. A rich man had many flocks and herds, but there was also a poor man with only one little ewe lamb. When a traveler came, the rich man, unwilling to take one of his own lambs, took the poor man’s lamb. David replied, “The man who has done this deserves to die” 2 Sam 12:5. And Nathan answered, “You are the man” 2 Sam 12:7. Nathan told David his temporal punishment, “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house” 2 Sam 12:10.
David went to Confession He told Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” 2 Sam 12:13. The Lord saw David’s true contrition, but his temporal punishment was severe. David’s first-born, Amnon, raped his half-sister Tamar 2 Sam 13:14. Her brother Absalom killed Amnon 2 Sam 13:28–29. Absalom rebelled against David, took over his kingdom 2 Sam 15:10 and slept with David’s concubines 2 Sam 16:22. Absalom too was killed 2 Sam 18:15. Then Adonijah tried to wrest the kingdom from his aging father David 1 Kings 1:25.
Still, our Father remembered his providence for us. The Mashiakh would still come from David’s line. David and Bathsheba’s son from their adulterous union died, but they had a second child, Solomon. During his last days on earth, David commanded that Solomon be crowned as king 1 Kings 1:34.
David remained the Lord’s anointed. Because of David’s sin with Bathsheba, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die” 2 Sam 12:13–14. An innocent child, the son of David, would die to atone for his father’s sin, as a thousand years later the Son of David would die to atone for all our sins.
And the Contrition
David prayed, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your merciful love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! Ps 51:1–2. David recognized the stain of original sin. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” Ps 51:5. David prayed, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation [yeshua], and uphold me with a willing spirit [ruakh]” Ps 51:12, understanding that to reach it he would need true contrition. “The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise” Ps 51:17.
Solomon: A Vicar Who Built And Destroyed
Take with you the servants of your lord, and cause Solomon my son to ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon; and let Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet there anoint him king over Israel; then blow the trumpet, and say, “Long live King Solomon!” You shall then come up after him, and he shall come and sit upon my throne; for he shall be king in my stead; and I have appointed him to be ruler over Israel and over Judah” 1 Kings 1:33–35. “Zadok the priest took the horn of oil from the tent, and anointed Solomon. Then they blew the trumpet; and all the people said, ‘Long live King Solomon!’” 1 Kings 1:39.
The son of David was anointed at Gihon, the spring that had brought living water to Jerusalem for thousands of years, a perfect foreshadow of the Son of David whose blood and water would sustain us all to Jerusalem on High.
God offered Solomon an inauguration gift. “Ask what I shall give you” 1 Kings 3:5. Solomon could have asked for long life, or riches, or the life of his enemies. But he asked, “Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern thy people, that I may discern between good and evil; for who is able to govern this thy great people?” 1 Kings 3:9.
Adam had taken Satan’s bait, “You will be like God, knowing good and evil” Gen 3:5, without God’s help, with catastrophic results. Solomon asked for ability to discern between good and evil with God’s help. The difference is monumental.
Our Father answered Solomon, Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you” 1 Kings 3:12.” Our Father continued, “I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days” 1 Kings 3:13. But our Father reminded Solomon that Israel was to be a people striving against fallen nature toward obedience. “If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your days” 1 Kings 3:14.
Solomon did receive wisdom. “And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding beyond measure, and largeness of mind like the sand on the seashore, so that Solomon’s wisdom surpassed the wisdom of all the people of the east, and all the wisdom of Egypt” 1 Kings 4:29. He also uttered three thousand proverbs; and his songs were a thousand and five. He spoke of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows out of the wall; he spoke also of beasts, and of birds, and of reptiles, and of fish. And men came from all peoples to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and from all the kings of the earth, who had heard of his wisdom” 1 Kings 4:32–34.
The era of Israel’s greatest kedusha, holiness, was from the time of Moses to the time of Solomon, when the pillar of fire revealed our Father’s presence to all Israel. The Tabernacle, the center of Jewish life, was portable, appropriate for the Israelite people whom our Father led from Sinai to Jerusalem and whom his Son would lead on a spiritual journey from Sinai to the Cross.
But after King David established the city from which he would rule, the time had come for a permanent structure. The son of David chosen to rule was Solomon. His Hebrew name, the name he was called every day, was shlomo, “his peace.” That is, God’s peace. It comes from shalom, “peace.” Shlomo built the Temple in Jerusalem, whose name, yiru-shalem, means “they will see peace,” and whose origins foreshadowed Isaiah’s “prince of peace” Is 9:6. The Temple was on Mt. Moriah, where Melchizedek had lived, where Abraham had intended to sacrifice his son Isaac, near Calvary where the Mashiakh would be crucified. When the Mashiakh would rise from the tomb and appear in the Upper Room, his first words would be, shalom alekhem, “Peace be with you” Jn 20:19.
Why a permanent structure? The people Israel were by then no longer nomads but settled in fixed locations, but that was not it. Certainly a permanent structure would have a more impressive appearance, but that was not it either. The structure had to be permanent to prepare for the coming Mashiakh, who would himself become the eternal Temple Jn 2:21.
The Temple in Jewish Life
The Temple complex on Jerusalem’s Mt. Moriah, where Abraham raised his hand to sacrifice Isaac, where King David had built his city, was the religious, social and judicial center for all Jewish life. From the beginning, the sages called it the very center of creation. The Temple service was personally celebrated by the kohen gadol, high priest, who supervised an elaborate hierarchy of officials. The Temple was the seat of the Sanhedrin, the final authority on halakha and the supreme court for the Jewish people.
Solomon’s Temple in particular was our Father’s house. He was “at home” for all who sought him. His presence was visible through daily miracles for all to see. Among them, the Midrash tells us, the fire on the altar always had the actual form of a crouching lion! At that time, the altar fire’s appearance reminded the rabbis of Jacob’s prophecy for his sons. “Judah is a lion’s whelp … he lurked as a lion” Gen 49:9. God is king over all the earth, and Judah’s tribe was the tribe of kings. The crouching lion was a sign of God.
But there was more to the prophecy. Judah’s tribe would also be the tribe from which God’s Mashiakh would come. “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” Gen 49:10. Micah, centuries later, saw more clearly that the lion was a sign of God’s Mashiakh. “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days” Micah 5:2. The Revelation confirms it: “Weep not; lo, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered, so that he can open the scroll and its seven seals” Rev 5:5.
A Jewish tradition holds that the seven-branch menorah represents the Tree of Life from the Garden of Eden, its seven branches representing the seven days of Creation. The Hebrew root for menorah is ner, lamp. Let us look at the golden Temple menorah, next to the South Wall, just across the room from the table of showbread, that provided a glorious light for the priests to consecrate the showbread. The menorah had seven lamps. The western lamp was called the ner Elohim, the Lamp of God, and also the shamash, or servant lamp, foreshadowing the Mashiakh, the “light of the world” Jn 8:12 who would one day say, “The Son of man came not to be served but to serve” Mt 20:28. St. John’s vision of heaven connected the menorah with the Mashiakh. “Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man” Rev 1:12–13. In Solomon’s Temple the menorah lamps always remained lit.
Jewish tradition holds that the Temple represented the image of a man. The Holy of Holies, which held the Ark of the Covenant, which held the Torah, the source of wisdom, represented the human mind. The menorah, a source of light and symbol of enlightenment, represented the right eye. The shulkhan, the table which held the showbread representing material sustenance, represented the left eye. The golden altar of incense, upon which incense was offered, the symbol of pleasantness in relationships, represented the nose. The entrance way to the hekhal, the sanctuary where the kohanim stood to give the blessing, represented the mouth. Some rabbis add that the altar of sacrifice, upon which offerings were burnt, corresponds to the stomach of a man.
Solomon’s Temple, with its “face,” was “crucified” by the Babylonians in 586 BC, when the people Israel were exiled from the promised land. It was “resurrected” on the same site, when the Judeans returned to Israel. But in the second Temple the Ark of the Covenant and the Shkhina were no longer present, suggesting God-with-us ascended to the Father. Could there be a more profound pre-figure that the Mashiakh, a Judahite, would become the new Temple?
And then, as with his father David, sin destroyed Solomon and his people. Our Father had given Moses the law of kings Deut 17:16–20. Of these seven mitzvot, Solomon violated three. “He must not multiply horses for himself,” “Nor shall he greatly multiply for himself silver and gold,” and “He shall not multiply wives for himself” Deut 17:16–17. But Solomon did multiply horses, 1 Kings 10:26, silver and gold, 1 Kings 10:14, and wives 1 Kings 11:3.
Solomon multiplied horses, built up a huge army. “But of the people of Israel Solomon made no slaves; they were the soldiers, they were his officials, his commanders, his captains, his chariot commanders and his horsemen” 1 Kings 9:22. “Solomon gathered together chariots and horsemen; he had fourteen hundred chariots and twelve thousand horsemen” 1 Kings 10:26; 2 Chron 1:14.
Solomon also multiplied for himself silver and gold. “Now the weight of gold that came to Solomon in one year was six hundred and sixty-six talents of gold” 1 Kings 10:14; 2 Chron 9:13. “This calls for wisdom: let him who has understanding reckon the number of the beast, for it is a human number, its number is six hundred and sixty-six” Rev 13:18. Behind the scenes, Satan was actively working to tempt Solomon.
Solomon multiplied wives for himself. “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women: the daughter of Pharaoh, and Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, ‘You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods; Solomon clung to these in love. He had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned away his heart” 1 Kings 11:2–3.
The sin of Seth’s line, marrying pagan women that led them astray Gen 6:2, that had led to the great flood and corrupted the Israelites in Joshua’s time again ran wild in the land. Joshua had warned all Israel: “Choose this day whom you will serve” Josh 24:15. Solomon chose. “For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods; and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not wholly follow the Lord, as David his father had done” 1 Kings 11:4–6.
Our Father had commanded: “You shall have no other gods before me,” Deut 5:7, but Solomon kept going. “Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who burned incense and sacrificed to their gods” 1 Kings 11:7–8. This was an echo of Eden. Our Father had given Adam preternatural gifts, but he still disobeyed. Our Father had given Solomon unsurpassed wisdom, and he too disobeyed.
God alone knows all the consequences of our sins! He told Solomon: “Since this has been your mind and you have not kept my covenant and my statutes which I have commanded you, I will surely tear the kingdom from you and will give it to your servant. 1 Kings 11:11.” But Solomon, like his father David, was still the Lord’s anointed 1 Kings 1:39, his vicar on earth. God decreed, “Yet for the sake of David your father I will not do it in your days, but I will tear it out of the hand of your son” 1 Kings 11:12.
In this we see how our Father, judging the nations, spares the faithful remnant of Israel. At the time of Sodom, Abraham had bargained with our Father Gen 18:24, but there were not even ten righteous men in the city. So the angels led Lot and his wife and his two daughters outside the city, just before our Father rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah Gen 19:24. Again, our Father declared, “Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him” 1 Kings 19:18. And again, “And the Lord said to him, ‘Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark upon the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it’” Ezek 9:4. And, finally, “Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads” Rev 7:3.
“Solomon reigned in Jerusalem over all Israel forty years” 2 Chron 9:30. And he told Solomon, “I will not tear away all the kingdom; but I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem which I have chosen” 1 Kings 11:13. Our wise Father always thinks far ahead. The “one tribe” He preserved was the tribe of Judah, the tribe of his Mashiakh. He also preserved the tribe of Benjamin, but the Benjaminites were so few that they were often thought of as Judahites.
The Tearing of Israel
Recall our Father’s original “covenant between the pieces” with Abram. “When the sun had gone down and it was dark, behold, a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch passed between these pieces” Gen 15:17. If it were broken, Israel would suffer the fate of the animals that had been broken in two.
“When Jeroboam went out of Jerusalem, the prophet Ahijah the Shilonite found him on the road. Now Ahijah had clad himself with a new garment; and the two of them were alone in the open country. Then Ahijah laid hold of the new garment that was on him, and tore it into twelve pieces” 1 Kings 11:29–30. Ahijah said to Jeroboam, “Take for your-self ten pieces; for thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, ‘Behold, I am about to tear the kingdom from the hand of Solomon, and will give you ten tribes (but he shall have one tribe, for the sake of my servant David and for the sake of Jerusalem, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel)” 1 Kings 11:31–32.”
Since that time, a Jew who hears that a family member or friend has passed into eternity tears his garments because God has torn that person out of his hands. Nine hundred years later, when the crucified Messiah said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” Lk 23:46, the Father tore his garment, the Temple curtain, as a sign that the great stone Temple would soon be torn from Israel’s hands. The ten tribes representing Jeroboam’s ten pieces were the tribes of Reuben, Simeon, Issachar, Zebulun, Ephraim, Manasseh, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. Rehoboam had only the tribes of Judah and Benjamin.
Rehoboam was the king of Judah. There is no record that he had ever been anointed, but he was recognized as king by all Israel 1 Kings 12:1. But soon afterward, the ten tribes rebelled against Rehoboam, and made Jeroboam king of Israel, which was north of Judah. The tearing of Israel had begun.
Jeroboam repeated the sin of the Israelites at the foot of Mt. Sinai, saying in his heart, “Now the kingdom will turn back to the house of David; if this people go up to offer sacrifices in the house of the LORD at Jerusalem, then the heart of this people will turn again to their lord, to Rehoboam king of Judah, and they will kill me and return to Rehoboam king of Judah” 1 Kings 12:26–28. At. Mt. Sinai Israel made and worshiped a golden calf Ex 32:4. Now Jeroboam had the same decision. Would he trust in God, or in idols? “So the king took counsel, and made two calves of gold. And he said to the people, “You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt” 1 Kings 12:28.
When Jeroboam was at his newly proclaimed capital, Bethel, which in Hebrew means “House of God,” burning incense at the altar to the calf-idols he had made, a man of God came and said, “Behold, the altar shall be torn down, and the ashes that are upon it shall be poured out” 1 Kings 13:3. When Jeroboam heard this he stretched out his hand from the altar and commanded his men to lay hold of the man of God. But the hand Jeroboam stretched out dried up, so that he could not draw it back. The altar was torn down and the ashes poured out 1 Kings 13:5.
What a vivid sign! Jeroboam surely made the connection. “You are dust, and to dust you shall return” Gen 3:19. The altar that held the ashes represented the nation of Israel. The tearing down of the altar and pouring out of its ashes was the destruction of Israel and the emptying out of its people. It was a prophecy of the Babylonian Exile.
God saw his people Israel break into two kingdoms around 931-930 BC, the northern Israel of the ten tribes and the southern Judea of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. They fought one another as well as the surrounding tribes.
And so Israel suffered the fate of the animals in the covenant between the pieces. It was cut in two, a northern kingdom of Israel that held ten of the twelve tribes (Reuben, Simeon, Issachar, Zebulun, Ephraim, Manasseh, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher), and a southern kingdom of Judah that held only the tribe of Judah, the small tribe of Benjamin, the faithful Levites, and a scattering from each of the other tribes. The northern kingdom continued its relentless sins.
The Northern Kingdom of Israel
During the next two and a half centuries nineteen kings governed the northern kingdom of Israel. All worshiped idols and led the Israelite people to worship idols.
The worst was King Ahab.
In the thirty-eighth year of Asa king of Judah, Ahab the son of Omri began to reign over Israel, and Ahab the son of Omri reigned over Israel in Samaria twenty-two years. And Ahab the son of Omri did evil in the sight of the LORD more than all that were before him. And as if it had been a light thing for him to walk in the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, he took for his wife Jezebel the daughter of Ethbaal king of the Sidonians, and went and served Baal, and worshiped him. He erected an altar for Baal in the house of Baal, which he built in Samaria. And Ahab made an Asherah. Ahab did more to provoke the LORD, the God of Israel, to anger than all the kings of Israel who were before him 1 Kings 16:29–33.
All this pagan activity attracted some pagans from the southern kingdom of Judah, so that all twelve tribes were there, but the pagan Judahites and Benjaminites were only a small part of the northern kingdom’s population.
Elijah the Tishbite
Mt. Carmel, from the Hebrew kerem el, vineyard of God, is a high promontory that juts into the Mediterranean Sea in northwestern Israel. Its folds have many natural grottoes that look as if built for hermits such as the prophet Elijah.
Most prophets are called in Hebrew simply nevi’im, prophets. Elijah was called by the title ish Elohim, man of God. Ish Elohim had been used to describe Moses Deut 33:1, Samuel 1 Sam 9:6, Shemaiah 1 Kings 12:22, and others, but by far most often in the books of Kings to describe Elijah and Elisha. Elijah was a prophet through whom God performed miracles.
The Challenge to Baal
Each year, in Israel and the surrounding countries, strong rainstorms, often with lightning and thunder, come in from the Mediterranean in November and December, and more during January, February, and March. These storms are absolutely necessary for life in the region; without them, there is no water. Their runoff fills the streams and rivers that bring life. Later, the melting snow from Mt. Hermon and other nearby mountains adds summer water to the streams and rivers.
Canaanites, especially up and down the Mediterranean coast, worshiped Baal as god of the storms. This Hebrew word baal means master. But God sent Elijah to Sidon, on the Mediterranean coast in what is now Lebanon, to show the ancient pagans there Who was the true master. The pagans believed that the gods controlled territory. If a god was seen as weak, unable to protect his territory, the people might stop worshiping him. This constant fighting among the gods of Canaanite mythology is consistent with the behavior of demons, who hate and attack one another as they hate and attack men.
God had sent Elijah to destroy Baal as he had destroyed the Egyptian gods, by showing his power over Baal. Elijah declared to Ahab: “As the Lord the God of Israel lives, before whom I stand, there shall be neither dew nor rain these years, except by my word” 1 Kings 17:1 But he also showed that, even within the famine, he would feed his own. God commanded Elijah, “Depart from here and turn eastward, and hide yourself by the brook Cherith, that is east of the Jordan. You shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there” 1 Kings 17:3–4. So he went and did according to the word of the Lord; he went and dwelt by the brook Cherith that is east of the Jordan. “And the ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning, and bread and meat in the evening; and he drank from the brook” 1 Kings 17:6.
When the brook dried out, because of the drought, God told Elijah, “Arise, go to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and dwell there. Behold, I have commanded a widow there to feed you” 1 Kings 17:9. The widow and her son were down to their last meal, some grain and oil. The Canaanites believed that their grain, wine, and oil came from Baal’s storms. But, during the time when there was no rain, Elijah told her, “The jar of meal shall not be spent, and the pitcher of oil shall not fail, until the day that the Lord sends rain upon the earth” 1 Kings 17:14. The woman had faith, and her jar of meal and pitcher of oil did not diminish.
Then, to show his power still further, God allowed the widow’s son to die. Elijah prayed, and his prayer was answered. “And Elijah took the child, and brought him down from the upper chamber into the house, and delivered him to his mother; and Elijah said, ‘See, your son lives.’ And the woman said to Elijah, ‘Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth’” 1 Kings 17:23–24.
God did all this through Elijah for a Gentile woman, to show that the God of Israel is God of all the nations. His sovereignty over all the world would soon become much more visible.
Elijah’s Contest of Sacrifices
God sent Elijah to demonstrate his power against Baal. Elijah stood alone against “the four hundred and fifty prophets of Baal and the four hundred prophets of Asherah” 1 Kings 18:19. There, at Mt. Carmel, Elijah challenged all the men of Israel, “How long will you go limping with two different opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal, then follow him” 1 Kings 18:21.
Elijah set up a contest of sacrifices. The priests of Baal would put a bull on an altar but not set a fire, and Elijah would do the same. “And you call on the name of your god and I will call on the name of the Lord; and the God who answers by fire, he is God” 1 Kings 18:24.
We can imagine Baal’s worshipers expecting that, if Baal sent the lightning and thunder and rain each year, he could easily send one lightning strike that would set fire to their bull. All morning the priests of Baal cried out, saying, “O Baal, answer us!” But there was no response. At noon Elijah taunted them, “Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is musing, or he has gone aside, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened” 1 Kings 18:27. They did. “And they cried aloud, and cut themselves after their custom with swords and lances, until the blood gushed out upon them. And as midday passed, they raved on until the time of the offering of the oblation, but there was no voice; no one answered, no one heeded” 1 Kings 18:28–29.
Elijah called the crowd around him. With a superb flair for the dramatic, he said, “‘Fill four jars with water, and pour it on the burnt offering, and on the wood.’ And he said, ‘Do it a second time’; and they did it a second time. And he said, ‘Do it a third time’; and they did it a third time. And the water ran round about the altar, and filled the trench also with water” 1 Kings 18:33–35. Then he said once, “Answer me, O Lord, answer me, that this people may know that thou, O Lord, art God, and that thou hast turned their hearts back” 1 Kings 18:37.
It was soon clear which side really had a flair for the dramatic. “Then the fire of the Lord fell, and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench” 1 Kings 18:38. And the stones, and the dust, and the water! When all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, “The Lord, he is God; the Lord, he is God” 1 Kings 18:39. This cry was profound. If the God of Israel is the only God, then his territory is the whole world. King David had seen it long ago: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, [Selah] that your way may be known upon earth, thy saving power among all nations” Ps 67:1–2.
Elijah knew what our Father had commanded concerning those who worship demons. “And Elijah said to them, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.’ And they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and killed them there” 1 Kings 18:40.
And when God had accomplished his purpose, Elijah went to the top of Mt. Carmel and told his servant seven times to look at the Mediterranean Sea, which is visible from there. The servant looked seven times. At first he saw nothing, but the seventh time he told Elijah, “Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising out of the sea” 1 Kings 18:44, and soon a great rain covered the parched land.
Elisha the Prophet
Jezebel was so deeply evil that Elijah’s victory in the contest of sacrifices did not persuade her. She threatened Elijah, “So may the gods do to me, and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow” 1 Kings 19:2. Elijah knew she was willing and able to kill him, so he fled to Beersheba, in the southern kingdom of Judah.
“So [Elijah] departed from there, and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing, with twelve yoke of oxen before him, and he was with the twelfth” 1 Kings 19:19. Twelve yoke of oxen remind us of the twelve shlikhim who wore Rabbi Yeshua’s yoke. “Take my yoke upon you” Mt 11:29. Elisha was following them. “If any one would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all” Mk 9:35. Elisha “took the yoke of oxen, and slew them, and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen, and gave it to the people, and they ate” 1 Kings 19:21. Yokes are the crosses we bear. Rabbi Yeshua would one day give his life on the Cross to feed his people Israel with the Bread of Life, and tell his shlikhim, “As the Father has sent me, even so I send you” Jn 20:21.
Among Elisha’s many pre-figures of Rabbi Yeshua, let us look at three more.
Pre-Figure: Raising a Child from Death
“When Elisha came into the house, he saw the child lying dead on his bed. So he went in and shut the door upon the two of them, and prayed to the Lord. Then he went up and lay upon the child, putting his mouth upon his mouth, his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his hands; and as he stretched himself upon him, the flesh of the child became warm. Then he got up again, and walked once to and fro in the house, and went up, and stretched himself upon him; the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes” 2 Kings 4:32–35.
“And when [Jesus] had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a tumult and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi”; which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise.’ And immediately the girl got up and walked; for she was twelve years old. And immediately they were overcome with amazement” Mk 5:39–42.
Pre-Figure: Miracle of the Loaves And Fishes
“A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing the man of God bread of the first fruits, twenty loaves of barley, and fresh ears of grain in his sack. And Elisha said, ‘Give to the men, that they may eat.’ But his servant said, ‘How am I to set this before a hundred men?’ So he repeated, “Give them to the men, that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, “They shall eat and have some left.”’ So he set it before them. And they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord” 2 Kings 4:42–44.
“Then [Jesus] ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass; and taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied” Mt 14:19–20.
Pre-Figure: Healing the Man Born Blind
“So Naaman came with his horses and chariots, and halted at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, ‘Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored, and you shall be clean’” 2 Kings 5:9–10. “So he went down and dipped himself seven times in the Jordan, according to the word of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean” 2 Kings 5:14.
“Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man’s eyes with the clay, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing” Jn 9:3–7.
The Northern Kingdom Falls
The Sign of Jonah
God first sent Isaiah to plead with harlot Israel to return to him. “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken” Is 1:18–20.
But harlot Israel did not return, so God in 734 BC sent Isaiah to tell Ahaz that God would bring Assyria and Egypt against Judah. “Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger, the staff of my fury! Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets” Is 10:5–6.
Only a few years later, in 725 BC, Jonah entered the great city of Nineveh the capital of Assyria, Israel’s mortal enemy. Jonah saw it as a no-win situation. Either the Ninevites would refuse his prophecy and kill him, or repent and grow stronger, but he had his orders and had personally experienced the consequences of disobedience Jon 1:17. Jonah walked for a day in Nineveh and then cried out, “Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” Jon 3:4. “And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them” Jon 3:5. The Ninevites had heard God‘s message in Jonah’s voice, “Repent or die.” They believed God, and were spared for God‘s mission to punish his chosen people Israel for their many sins.
The kingdom of Assyria lay north of the northern kingdom of Israel, in today’s Syria, Iraq and Turkey. The Israelites became spiritually, physically, and militarily weaker, while the Assyrians became stronger. This change in the balance of power was our Father’s final warning.
The first assault had already come, in 733 BC, to show Israel that our Father meant it. “In the days of Pekah king of Israel Tiglathpileser king of Assyria came and captured Ijon, Abel-beth-maacah, Jan-oah, Kedesh, Hazor, Gilead, and Galilee, all the land of Naphtali; and he carried the people captive to Assyria” 2 Kings 15:29.
Israel descended to perhaps the darkest possible sins against God‘s law. “And they burned their sons and their daughters as offerings, and used divination and sorcery, and sold themselves to do evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger. Therefore the LORD was very angry with Israel, and removed them out of his sight; none was left but the tribe of Judah only” 2 Kings 17:17–18.
The second and larger assault came about 722 BC. “Shalmaneser king of Assyria came up against Samaria and besieged it and at the end of three years he took it” 2 Kings 18:9. The king of Assyria carried the Israelites away to Assyria … because they did not obey the voice of the Lord their God but transgressed his covenant” 2 Kings 18:11–12.
The Ten Lost Tribes Disperse
Some members of the ten tribes migrated from Assyria to different countries. But most members of the tribes of Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, Zebulun, Ephraim, Manasseh, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher were resettled in what is now northern Iraq and Syria, and northwestern Iran.
Ephraim’s tribe merged into the northern kingdom, so the ten “lost tribes” of the northern kingdom were collectively called Ephraim, after its largest tribe. “Say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I am about to take the stick of Joseph (which is in the hand of Ephraim) and the tribes of Israel associated with him; and I will join with it the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, that they may be one in my hand” Ezek 37:19.
There they too married the local people. Like the Samaritans, their children were half-Israelite, their children’s children quarter-Israelite, and so on. In our Father’s far-seeing providence these ten tribes, by completely merging into the local populations, spread their election to all who would follow his Son in the new Israel.
God commanded the prophet Hosea to marry a “wife of harlotry” Hos 1:2. Hosea married Gomer, who conceived and bore him a son named Jezreel, a sign of the northern kingdom’s destruction, as he makes clear, “And on that day, I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel” Hos 1:5. Then Gomer bore a daughter named Lo-Ruhamah, “Not Pitied” Hos 1:6, a sign that he would no longer love and forgive the house of Israel. Her third child, a son, was named Lo-Ami, “Not My People” Hos 1:9 suggesting that God’s covenant with the house of Israel had been broken. Hosea’s family was a sign to the Judahites, showing that what happened to the northern kingdom was no mere military act but a sign of his anger and a warning that they too could be cast out of God’s Holy Land.
The Southern Kingdom of Judah
There is always a faithful remnant of Israel. In addition to tribes of Judah and Benjamin, God preserved also in Judah a faithful remnant of the Levites to continue the Temple sacrifices until the day of the Messiah, and a remnant of all the tribes of Israel, as we can see by “Anna … of the tribe of Asher” Lk 2:36.
The southern kingdom of Judah lasted more than a century after the north fell, because it was not as corrupted by idolatry. It was called Judah because the tribe of Judah was its dominant tribe. The tribe of Benjamin was much smaller and weaker. Rehoboam, the last king of united Israel, was its first king 1 Kings 12:17.
There were more than those two tribes. The pagan northern kingdom had no place for holy Aaronic priests. “Jeroboam and his sons cast them out from serving as priests of the Lord, and he appointed his own priests for the high places, and for the satyrs, and for the calves which he had made” 2 Chron 11:14–15. So our Father led the small remnant of faithful Levites from the northern kingdom to the southern kingdom to preserve and purify the Aaronic priesthood. “For the Levites left their common lands and their holdings and came to Judah and Jerusalem” 2 Chron 11:14. They knew they had to be in the Temple on Mt. Moriah.
The tiny faithful remnant of Israel from all the tribes moved to the south. “And those who had set their hearts to seek the Lord God of Israel came after them from all the tribes of Israel to Jerusalem to sacrifice to the Lord, the God of their fathers” 2 Chron 11:16.
In that way the southern kingdom included members of all the twelve tribes of Israel. Our Father even addressed them as such. “Say to Rehoboam the son of Solomon king of Judah, and to all Israel in Judah and Benjamin …” 2 Chron 11:3. But Judah was by far the dominant tribe.
“Rehoboam dwelt in Jerusalem, and he built cities for defense in Judah. He built Bethlehem, Etam, Tekoa, Beth-zur, Soco, Adullam, Gath, Mareshah, Ziph, Adoraim, Lachish, Azekah, Zorah, Aijalon, and Hebron, fortified cities which are in Judah and in Benjamin. He made the fortresses strong, and put commanders in them, and stores of food, oil, and wine. And he put shields and spears in all the cities, and made them very strong. So he held Judah and Benjamin” 2 Chron 11:5–12.
Our Father always watches over his children. He had used Jeroboam’s evil to let the unfaithful priests be lost with the other tribes. But he preserved the faithful among the tribe of Levi, the tribe set apart for the Aaronic priesthood. “And the priests and the Levites that were in all Israel presented themselves to him from all places where they lived. For the Levites left their common lands and their holdings and came to Judah and Jerusalem, because Jeroboam and his sons cast them out from serving as priests of the LORD” 2 Ch 11:13–14.
The best was King Hezekiah, who ruled from 715 to 686 BC. “And he did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David his father had done” 2 Kings 18:3, 2 Chron 29:2. “[Hezekiah] removed the high places, and broke the pillars, and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel had burned incense to it; it was called Nehushtan. He trusted in the LORD the God of Israel; so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him” 2 Kings 18:4–5.
In the Hebrew Scriptures, “high places” were certain hilltops where, because of peculiar terrain such as an odd-shaped rock or unusual tree, pagans believed they could make contact with gods. People whirled around like dervishes accompanied by flutes, cymbals, drums, tambourines, etc., in pagan rituals of life, death and rebirth.
But after Hezekiah came his son Manasseh.
“Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. He did what was evil in the sight of the LORD, according to the abominable practices of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the sons of Israel” 2 Chron 33:1–2.
“[Manasseh] rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had destroyed; and he erected altars for Baal, and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, and worshiped all the host of heaven, and served them. And he built altars in the house of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, ‘In Jerusalem will I put my name.’ And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD. And he burned his son as an offering, and practiced soothsaying and augury, and dealt with mediums and with wizards. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger” 2 Kings 21:3–6.
“The LORD spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they gave no heed. Therefore the LORD brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh with hooks and bound him with fetters of bronze and brought him to Babylon. And when he was in distress he entreated the favor of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God received his entreaty and heard his supplication and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God” 2 Ch 33:10–13.
Josiah And the Finding of Deuteronomy
Soon after Manasseh came Josiah. “And [Josiah] did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, and walked in all the way of David his father, and he did not turn aside to the right hand or to the left” 2 Kings 2:22.
Some time after Moses wrote the Torah on five parchment scrolls, the Book of Deuteronomy was lost. The centuries passed, and God’s people Israel did the best they could using the remaining four books of the Torah that they had. In Moses’ time, God had called for a portable Tabernacle, a place where God could meet with his people Israel. The Tabernacle was portable, so Israelites were free to set up altars and sacrifice to God wherever they were at the time. Then God led King Solomon to build a magnificent Temple at an exact location in Jerusalem. The Temple began as the headquarters for Israel’s worship, but the animal sacrifices called for in the Torah, mainly in the books of Leviticus and Numbers, could be done anywhere. The Book of Chronicles tells us, “Hilkiah the priest found the book of the law of the Lord given through Moses” 2 Chron 34:14.
“And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, ‘I have found the book of the law [sefer haTorah] in the house of the Lord [b’beit YHWH]’” 2 Kings 22:8. Sefer is a hand written scroll written by a sofer, a scribe. HaTorah is “the Torah,” or “the teaching.” Be means in, beit means house, so b’beit YHWH means “in the house of God” (the Temple of Solomon).
The original Hebrew, et sefer torat YHWH beyad Moshe, shows us that it is Moses’ original scroll. Et is “the,” not just any but the one. Sefer is a. Torat is the possessive form of torah; followed by YHWH it means God’s Torah. Yad is “hand.” Beyad moshe means “in the hand of Moses,” or more colloquially, “hand written by Moses.”
How did Hilkiah know that it was Moses’ own Hebrew writing done centuries earlier? He already had Moses’ original scrolls of Bereishit (Genesis), Shemot (Exodus), Vayikra (Leviticus), and Bamidbar (Numbers). Now he could add D’varim (Deuteronomy).
You shall seek the place which the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there; thither you shall go, and thither you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the offering that you present, your votive offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstlings of your herd and of your flock Deut 12:5–6.
Josiah and Hilkiah knew that God had chosen a place to make his habitation: The Temple in Jerusalem. No longer could Jews celebrate the Passover wherever they lived. From that day on God required every able-bodied Jewish father in the world to travel from wherever he lived to Jerusalem and make his obligatory sacrifices there in the Temple. He could no longer do the sacrifice himself. Now he had to bring it to a priest who would sacrifice the lamb for him.
God had confined all sacrifices to the Temple, and then allowed the Temple to be destroyed. But he had also commanded that the Passover would be an ordinance forever. The Passover sacrifice must have continued in some form. Of course, it did, as the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, when the Lamb of God Jn 1:29, 36 served as both priest and victim. There was only one sacrifice, the Final Sacrifice, re-presented every day on the altars of Catholic cathedrals, parish churches and monasteries all over the world.
Centuries later, our Father’s larger purpose became clear. “In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord” Is 40:3. Our Father prepared the way for his Son by restricting Israel’s sacrifices to the Temple itself. Then, when his Son would come, our Father would allow the Temple on Mt. Moriah to be destroyed so that the people could fulfill the Mosaic sacrifices only by consuming his Son’s one Final Sacrifice re-presented each day until the end of time.
The Southern Kingdom Falls
When Josiah died his great religious reforms died after him and the downward spiral continued. The last four kings of Judah, Jehoahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah, committed atrocities and defiled the Temple.
Jehoiachin had been king only three months when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came with his forces and besieged the city. Nebuchadnezzar brought Jehoiachin and all the mighty men of valor to Babylon. He also “carried off all the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king’s house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold in the temple of the Lord, which Solomon king of Israel had made” 2 Kings 24:13. None remained, except the poorest people of the land.
The Man Clothed in Linen
In Jerusalem, our Father told a man clothed in linen, “Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark upon the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it” Ezek 9:4. Our English translations say a mark, but the original Hebrew says a tav. Tav is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, representing God’s protection at the end of our life. In ancient Israel, before the Babylonian Exile, the Hebrew letter tav was written as an equal-armed cross, like a +. Sometimes it appeared tilted, as an x (the tav has a very different appearance in modern Hebrew).
The Greek alphabet’s last letter is tau, and also represents God’s protection at the end of our earthly life. St. Francis particularly loved the Tau Cross and often signed correspondence with it in place of his signature. The Tau Cross is sometimes called the St. Francis Cross because most Franciscan places of worship have the tau painted on the building. The Tau Cross also represents reflection and contemplation, accepting the things that have passed and being ready to move on to a new life.
Our Father’s next command, to the six “executioners of the city” Ezek 9:1 was a Passover. “Pass through the city after him, and kill; your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity; slay old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one upon whom is the mark [tav]” Ezek 9:5–6. All who bore the tav would escape death, but not punishment. “And if any survivors escape, they will be on the mountains, like doves of the valleys, all of them moaning, every one over his iniquity” Ezek 7:16. St. Jerome records this interpretation by Origen: “When the people of Israel were asked what the tav means, some answered that because it is the last of the twenty-two letters of the [Hebrew] alphabet it shows the perfection of those who remained to wail and lament the sins of the people. Others said it was a sign of those who had fulfilled the Law, which is Torah in Hebrew. And, finally, others said that it referred to those who believe in Christ, because the taw takes the form of a cross, the sign with which all Christians are marked at their baptism.”
And who was the man clothed in linen? He was an angel appearing as a priest. Aaronic priests wore linen. “He shall put on the holy linen coat, and shall have the linen breeches on his body, be girded with the linen girdle, and wear the linen turban; these are the holy garments” Lev 16:4. His presence tells us that the armies of Nebuchadnezzar were weapons in God’s hands, not wicked invaders.
In the end, Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, “did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” 2 Kings 24:19. Our Father sent Jeremiah to warn him: “Bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and live. Why will you and your people die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, as the Lord has spoken concerning any nation which will not serve the king of Babylon?” Jer 27:12–13. But Zedekiah rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, who did not appreciate his ingratitude. “Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came with all his army against Jerusalem, and laid siege to it … the famine was so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land” 2 Kings 25:1,3.
Our Father Hides His Face
Our Father had made the Tabernacle, and then Solomon’s Temple, a mirror of Israel’s spiritual level. At the beginning, the Tabernacle, the mishkan, held within it the Shkhina, the indwelling presence of God. “The glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” Ex 40:34. And “Throughout all their journeys the cloud of the Lord was upon the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel” Ex 40:38.
Solomon led the whole people Israel away from the Temple toward the pagan gods Ashtoreth, Milcom, Chemosh, and Molech. His Temple still retained the Shkhina, but it was only in the Holy of Holies. The presence of God was no longer visible in the sight of all the house of Israel. Over the centuries the people Israel sank farther into sin.
In the end, Solomon’s Temple itself was burned in fire, no longer visible at all in the sight of all the house of Israel. In 586 BC, on the ninth of av, on Nebuchadnezzar’s orders, Nebuzaradan, captain of the guard, with the army of the Chaldeans, “burned the house of the Lord, and the king’s house and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down” 2 Kings 25:9.
The prophet Amos gave us God’s promise to rebuild the House of Israel for the age of the Mashiakh to come. Amos 9:11–12, fulfilled in Rabbi Yeshua’s Acts 1:3, Philip’s Acts 8:12, and Rabbi Paul’s Acts 14:22; 19:8; 20:25; 28:23; 31.
In the Diaspora
Diaspora is a Greek word for “scattering.” It describes the Jewish communities living outside the Holy Land of Judea, Samaria and Galilee.
The diaspora was a voluntary scattering or dispersion of the Jewish people throughout the ancient world. Exile, by contrast, is a forced dispersion. The Babylonian Exile was initially a forced deportation, but the exile became a voluntary residence outside the Holy Land when the Persians allowed the exiles to return home and many chose instead to remain in Babylonia.
When Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem, he brought most of the Judeans to Babylon, where he allowed them to live as a community. Some Judeans managed to remain in Judea, while others fled to Egypt and settled in the Nile delta.
After Cyrus the Great of Persia offered to let the Judeans return to Judea and rebuild the Temple, most of them preferred to remain in Babylon. A remnant returned to Jerusalem to work on the Temple reconstruction. So there were two groups of Jews: one in the Holy Land—Jerusalem and the surrounding area of Judea—and another in the diaspora, the dispersion or scattering. The diaspora remained mainly in and near Babylon, but substantial Jewish communities also formed elsewhere.
The Second Temple
And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the LORD, according to the directions of David king of Israel; and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD, “For he is good, for his mercy endures for ever toward Israel.” And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. Ezra 3:10–11.
Yet the older men, who remembered the first Temple of Solomon, knew that the second Temple was inferior to the first. “But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid” Ezra 3:12. The Holy of Holies, without the Ark of the Covenant, was a small entirely bare room.
Despite its plain appearance, the Holy of Holies remained very special because it was hallowed, made holy, by God. The rabbis explain that the space in that room was not ordinary space like the space outside. It was nullified as ordinary space, and made nothing. We may think of it as the nothingness before the big bang of creation, a place whose utter nothingness granted it a humility beyond every other place on earth. It was a place fit for God.
The rabbinic tradition was that sanctity can only dwell in a place—in a soul—clothed in humility. “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all men that were on the face of the earth” Num 12:3. God chose this exceedingly humble man, spoke with him “face to face” Ex 33:11, because he would be obedient, soft “clay in the potter’s hand” Jer 18:6. If Moses had been proud he would have resisted God.
When the high priest entered the Holy of Holies he too became “alter Moses,” another Moses, that he too might become a channel of grace, offering no resistance to God. But this required that he possess both a ritual purity and an interior purity of humility.
So it remains today, in both Jewish and Catholic faith. God still teaches that we must empty ourselves to become channels of grace. As always, Rabbi Yeshua set the highest standard. He “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” Phil 2:7. As always, the Blessed Virgin followed. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” Lk 1:38.
God’s Promise of Resurrection
God’s constant theme for us in this life is death and resurrection. In that way he prepares us for the death of our bodies and the resurrection of our souls in heaven. We see it in the beautiful leaves each autumn that fall to earth and die, and thereby provide fresh nourishment for the forest.
After the Exile, the ten tribes of Israel had become indistinct from the other tribes. Yet, in truth, these tribes remained and were not lost. The rabbis had long cherished the hope that God’s Mashiakh would completely restore Israel with all its twelve tribes.
About a century after the ten tribes merged into their local populations Jeremiah saw a vision of Rachel, matriarch of the tribes of Joseph through Ephraim and Manasseh, and he heard this prophecy: “A voice is heard in Ramah, lamentation and bitter weeping. Rachel is weeping for her children; she refuses to be comforted for her children, because they are not” Jer 31:15.
But our Father told Rachel, “Keep your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears; for your work shall be rewarded … and they shall come back from the land of the enemy. There is hope for your future … and your children shall come back to their own country” Jer 31:16–17. Ephraim and Manasseh would return from the Exile!
Our Father also made this extraordinary promise through the prophet Ezekiel: “For, behold, I am for you, and I will turn to you, and you shall be tilled and sown; and I will multiply men upon you, the whole house of Israel, all of it” Ezek 36:9–10. The prophecy was for the whole house of Israel!
God led Ezekiel to a valley of dry bones, and commanded Ezekiel to prophesy:
So I prophesied as I was commanded; and as I prophesied, there was a noise, and behold, a rattling; and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And as I looked, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them; but there was no spirit in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the spirit, prophesy, son of man, and say to the spirit, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O spirit, and breathe upon these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the spirit came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great host Ezek 37:7–10.
Our Father was clear.
Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel … Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you home into the land of Israel. Ezek 37:11–12.
The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many. Mt 27:52–53.
And so God restored Israel’s torn northern kingdom. The southern kingdom remained. Ezekiel continued to prophesy:
Son of man, take a stick and write on it, ‘For Judah, and the children of Israel associated with him’; then take another stick and write upon it, ‘For Joseph (the stick of Ephraim) and all the house of Israel associated with him’; and join them together into one stick, that they may become one in your hand. Ezek 37:16–17.
God would join the northern kingdom of Israel with the southern kingdom of Judah to restore the whole nation of Israel. Ezekiel continued:
Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will take the sons of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all sides, and bring them to their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king over them all; and they shall be no longer two nations, and no longer divided into two kingdoms. Ezek 37:21–22.
But would the re-united Israel be with the many Jews who followed Rabbi Yeshua or the others who did not follow him? God gave Ezekiel the answer for us: “My servant David shall be king over them; and they shall all have one shepherd” Ezek 37:24. Rabbi Yeshua was always known as the Son of David Mt 1:1. He prayed, “that they may be one” Jn 17:11.
Rabbi Yeshua the good shepherd Jn 10:11 commanded Rabbi Kefa, “Feed my lambs” Jn 21:15. And he promised, “I will make a covenant of peace with them; it shall be an everlasting covenant with them” Ezek 37:26. During his Last Supper Rabbi Yeshua instituted the New and Eternal Covenant, and his first words on rising from the tomb were, shalom alekhem, “Peace be with you” Jn 20:19.
The Hellenistic Age
Greece began with the Mycenaeans, about the time of Moses. The Mycenaeans had an advanced culture but, by the time of the tearing of Israel, the Dorian barbarians had made Greece a place of darkness. Greece entered its golden age about the time of the Babylonian Exile.
By the fourth century BC Macedonia had risen to power. The Macedonian Alexander the Great, taught by Aristotle, conquered the entire Persian Empire, which had stood for more than two centuries, to create a vast empire stretching from the Danube River in Europe to the Indus River in southern Asia.
Shimon HaTzadik, in the time of Alexander the Great, was kohen gadol, high priest of the Temple, and one of the last members of the Great Assembly, a group of sages founded by Ezra the Scribe after his journey from Babylon to Israel. The Great Assembly, the legislative and judicial branch of the reconstituted Jewish nation, enacted decrees aimed at strengthening observance of the Torah, such as canonizing the prayers, clarifying the Oral Law, and in general fortifying the faith.
Shimon HaTzadik taught that the world stands on three things (Mishna Pirke Abot 1:2): “Torah, divine worship, and acts of kindness.” This is much more than a moral imperative; he taught that we must do these things to participate in the very purpose of existence. He saw the Torah as the blueprint for creation (Zohar, Terumah 161a): “[God] looked into the Torah and created the world.” Divine worship was the Temple service. Kindness included charity but went beyond it to include helping others with one’s own body in addition to financial help, comforting the bereaved, visiting the sick, and generally going beyond the letter of the Torah to be a pillar of good works.
We would expect Alexander to destroy the Temple as part of his institution of pagan Greek culture over his immense empire. The Samaritans, who hated the Jews, encouraged him to do it. But God protected the Temple. Before every battle Alexander had dreamed about a strange man, whom he saw as an omen of victory. When Alexander arrived in Jerusalem he met the man he had seen so often in his dreams: Shimon HaTzadik! Shaken, Alexander the military genius actually bowed down before the Jewish sage. Shimon persuaded Alexander that the Jews were not enemies of the Greeks, but that the Samaritans were. Alexander spared the Temple, and Israel including Jerusalem was peacefully absorbed into the Greek Empire (Mishna Yoma 69a).
The Greek Way of Life
Hellenism was an approach to life focused on the human person. The Greeks highlighted all human capabilities, including the intellectual arts of philosophy, literature, architecture, sculpture and music, as well as the physical arts, particularly athletics and sexuality. During the warm weather people often walked around naked. Every kind of sexual pleasure was encouraged, even pedophilia and pederasty. The sexual initiation of a young boy by an older man was considered the highest form of love, as Plato wrote, “I, for my part, am at a loss to say what greater blessing a man can have in earliest youth than an honorable [older] lover.”2 This was a direct violation of the Torah. “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” Lev 18:22.
When we sexually invite new life into the world, God often sends us new life. But so much casual sexual activity brought many unwanted children. The Greeks calculated coldly that overpopulation was dangerous and that killing crippled children was an expedient way of dealing with it. Aristotle wrote, “There must be a law that no imperfect or maimed child shall be brought up. And to avoid an excess in population, some children must be exposed [on the trash heap to die]. For a limit must be fixed to the population of the state.”3 This too directly violated the Torah, “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live” Deut 30:19.
Even the Greek “gods,” demons, were described in human terms. This was new. The demons worshiped by the earlier Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, Jebusites, etc., were seen as animals or monsters, never in human form. But after the prophets had foretold that the Messiah would come in human form, the demons began to incite the Greeks and Romans to imagine their “gods” in human form.
The Prohibition Against Judaism
During the first century of Greek rule, the Jewish population was allowed to remain separate and distinct. But, as the years passed, the Jewish beliefs and practices became an open challenge to Hellenistic world supremacy.
In particular, the Septuagint, the Hebrew Scripture translation into Greek, became the sword that divided Judaism and Hellenism. The distribution of Septuagint texts throughout the Greek world brought the differences between Jews and Greeks into sharp focus. The Jews believed that all existence came from one almighty and invisible God. They believed further that he gave them the Torah, which taught a way of life that the Greeks found incomprehensible. Eventually the Greeks decided that the time had come to end Judaism.
Antiochus IV, the Hellenist king who oversaw Judea, was a satanic murderer. Immediately on assuming power, he sent his soldiers to conquer Egypt. Its city of Alexandria had the largest Jewish population in the diaspora. But also, Antiochus IV saw the Romans advancing eastward to expand their empire. If he could conquer Egypt, he would increase his own power and limit Rome’s. His soldiers entered Egypt and killed wantonly, men, women and children alike. But when the Romans stopped them, Antiochus IV took out his rage on the Jews in Judea. He sent an officer, Apollonius, through the country to kill the same way, wantonly, with terrible ferocity. Great numbers of Jews died during his murderous forays.
Antiochus IV also outlawed Sabbath worship and circumcision, and brutally tried to force the Jews to become pagans. “Then the king wrote to his whole kingdom that all should be one people, and that each should give up his customs. All the Gentiles accepted the command of the king. Many even from Israel gladly adopted his religion; they sacrificed to idols and profaned the sabbath” 1 Mac 1:41–43 But there were others. “But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die” 1 Mac 1:62–63. The Greeks could not understand men who would die for God.
“The temple was filled with debauchery and reveling by the Gentiles, who dallied with harlots and had intercourse with women within the sacred precincts, and besides brought in things for sacrifice that were unfit. The altar was covered with abominable offerings which were forbidden by the laws. A man could neither keep the sabbath, nor observe the feasts of his fathers, nor so much as confess himself to be a Jew” 2 Mac 6:4–6.
Torah study, circumcision, sabbath observance, and kosher observance were forbidden on pain of death. Participation in the official Greek cult was obligatory. In the Temple, Antiochus IV erected an altar to the Olympian Zeus behind and above the Jewish altar. On 25th Kislev in 168 BC, he offered the first pagan sacrifice. Faithful Jews, known as hasidim, fled from the cities and continued to study the Torah at great peril. Those who remained took up the Greek cult.
Some of the Jews set a magnificent example. Antiochus’ men tried to force Eleazar the Scribe, then ninety years old and of noble presence, to eat pork. They reasoned that if the highly respected Eleazar would violate the Torah by eating pork to save his life, most of the other Jews would do the same. But Eleazar instead walked to the rack of his own accord, spitting out the pork 2 Mac 6:19. Antiochus’ men then took Eleazar aside privately and urged him to bring kosher meat and only pretend to violate the Torah. But Eleazar again refused, saying that many younger Jews would be led astray. He declared, “For even if for the present I should avoid the punishment of men, yet whether I live or die I shall not escape the hands of the Almighty. Therefore, by manfully giving up my life now, I will show myself worthy of my old age and leave to the young a noble example of how to die a good death willingly and nobly for the revered and holy laws” 2 Mac 6:26–28. Then he went to the rack.
Antiochus’ men then they arrested a mother and her seven sons and tried to force them to eat pork. All seven sons and their mother refused, and were killed 2 Mac 7:20.
The Aaronic priest Mattathias also rebelled, refusing to conduct pagan services and killing an apostate Jew who had agreed to conduct them. After Mattathias died, his son Yehuda HaMaccabi, the Hammer of God, defeated the Hellenist Syrians and Jews to regain Judea about 165 BC. He cleaned out the second Temple, demolished the altar of Zeus and built a new altar of fresh natural stones. Then he performed a hanukkah (Hebrew: dedication), on 25th kislev in 165 BC, three years later to the day.
Without this hanukkah there might have been no Christmas. No Jews, no Mashiakh. Blessedly, our Father once again sent exactly the help his children needed. And he put his signature on it. The Mishna, Shabat 21b, relates that Yehuda HaMaccabi (Judah the Hammer) had only one day’s olive oil for the eternal lamp Lev 6:13, but would need eight days to press and prepare new oil, but that the lamp miraculously remained lit. To this day, Jews celebrate the hanukkah by lighting a hanukiah with eight candles, one for each of the eight days. It also has one candle above the rest, called the shamash, which is humble, not counted among the eight, but used to light the others. The eternal lamp, “The light of the world” Jn 8:12, remains lit in the everlasting “temple of [Rabbi Yeshua’s] body.”
An ancient Hebrew song, Maoz tzur, often sung in English as Rock of Ages, is often sung at Hanukkah to commemorate hanukkah, re-dedication of the Temple. It says, Maoz tzur yeshuati, lecha nae leshabeakh – tikon bet tefilati, vesham todah nezabeakh. “The rock of my salvation, to you we send our praises, my house of prayer is up, and there we will give thanks with sacrifices.”
When we look at yeshuati, “my salvation,” todah, “thanks,” and nezabeakh, “with sacrifices,” we think of the todah sacrifice when the seventy elders beheld God, and ate and drank Ex 24:11 that Rabbi Yeshua has now completed.
Rabbi Yeshua was the shamash, the servant candle. “The Son of man came not to be served but to serve” Mt 20:28, and “to cast fire upon the earth” Lk 12:49. To this day we begin the Easter Vigil Mass in a darkened church as a priest or deacon carrying the Easter candle cries out, “Christ, our light!” Servers take flame from the Easter candle and light the candle of each person standing beside the aisle, who in turn passes the light to all the others in his pew until every Catholic in attendance has a candle lighted from the Easter candle, so that Rabbi Yeshua, “the light of the world” Jn 8:12, can say to us, “You are the light of the world” Mt 5:14.
The struggle continued. Many of the Jews had abandoned their faith and taken up with the Greeks. “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand” Mk 3:25. These hellenized Jews resented the Maccabee recovery of Jerusalem and fought alongside the Greeks. Finally, in 142 BC, during the reign of the Hellenist King Demetrius, our Father allowed the nation of Israel to regain its independence. Most of our history from this time comes from Josephus.
The Brief Independence of Israel
We can have the promised land if we fight for it. Yehuda HaMaccabi fought for our Father’s way of life against the pagans and once again gained the promised land. He recalled that Rome had stopped Antiochus’ effort to kill Egyptians. To protect Israel, he set up an alliance with the Roman Empire against the Hellenists. Many Jews left Israel to go to Rome.
The Hasmonean dynasty, which ruled Israel during this brief period of independence 142-63 BC, were Aaronic priests. “And the Jews and their priests decided that Simon should be their leader and high priest for ever, until a trustworthy prophet should arise, and that he should be governor over them” 1 Mac 14:41–42.
Our Father had ruled that no man could be both king and priest. Jacob had blessed his son Judah, “The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs; and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples” Gen 49:10.” God had decreed that only Aaron and his descendants could be priests. “Then bring near to you Aaron your brother, and his sons with him, from among the sons of Israel, to serve me as priests” Ex 28:1. The first ruler of Israel, Simon, had been careful to call himself nasi, leader, rather than king, but he ruled as a king. “The Lord looks on the heart” 1 Sam 16:7. Their era was marked by a downward spiral in Torah adherence.
After Simon and two of his sons were assassinated in 134 BC, the next ruler of Israel was Yokhanan Hyrcanus, whose Jewish-Greek name was a metaphor for the pagan influence spreading across Israel. Our Father had brought Israel into being as a people apart Deut 7:1–5. Abraham had been called ha’ivri, the Hebrew Gen 14:13, a lone voice for God in the wilderness. Membership in the tribes was hereditary. “To your descendants I give this land” Gen 15:18. Membership in the priesthood was hereditary. “Thus you shall ordain Aaron and his sons” Ex 29:9. He gave them commandments such as no one else on earth had been given.
Voluntary conversion has always been possible. True entry into the tribe requires radical transformation, openly declared in a profession of faith. “Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God; where you die I will die, and there will I be buried” Ruth 1:16–17. But forcing pagans to accept Judaism disrupted the very sense of Jewish identity as a people apart. Hyrcanus expanded the borders of Israel, but then he forced the conquered peoples to convert to Judaism, a violation of the strict rule of separation. Among the peoples forced to convert were the Idumeans.
The downward spiral continued. Hyrcanus’ son Alexander Jannaeus became the next ruler. He had become fully pagan, and he sided with the Sadducees, the “Protestant” Jews who followed only the Written Torah and made up their own interpretations, against the Pharisees.The term “Pharisee” comes from the Hebrew pa-rush, “separated.” The Pharisees were the consecrated religious of their day, focused on God, separated from the world, as Rabbi Yeshua’s shlikhim were. Rabbi Yeshua criticized so many of them for corruption because they knew the Torah, and he expected them to live up to it. Alexander Jannaeus executed hundreds of Pharisees after forcing them to watch the slaughter of their families, all while hosting a Greek style feast.
The last Hasmonean rulers were two brothers, Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, both pagan. They fought over which should be king, and decided at last to ask Rome, their supposed ally, to mediate their dispute. In 63 BC General Pompey’s legions marched into Jerusalem. The briefly independent nation of Judea became a Roman province. The story is all in Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book 14, Chapters 3 and 4.
The Roman Era
Jewish tradition holds that the Romans descended from Esau, the pagan red-haired bloodthirsty brother of Jacob. The Jews in Rabbi Yeshua’s time called Rome Edom, another name for Esau, which in Hebrew means both “red” and “blood” Gen 25:25, 30. The Romans were much more conservative, hardworking, organized, martial and brutal than the Greeks.
Rome ruled its dominions by proxy, allowing a local king or governor to deal with day-to-day problems, provided that Roman laws were obeyed and Roman taxes paid.
Pompey’s soldiers made Hyrcanus, the weaker of the two brothers, puppet ruler of the country. Hyrcanus called himself a king, but he actually governed only Jerusalem and some nearby outlying areas, and could act only with approval of the Roman proconsul in Damascus.
Yokhanan Hyrcanus’ forcible conversion of the Idumeans had brought into the tribe Antipater, a powerful man who became his chief adviser. But Antipater was a forced convert, not a Torah Jew. He maneuvered to get his own family into positions of power.
In 49 BC Pompey and Julius Caesar fought for imperial power; Antipater guided Hyrcanus to back Caesar. Soon Hyrcanus was out and Antipater was in. The Romans knew that Antipater, the forcibly converted Jew, would not promote the Torah Judaism that was so inconsistent with their pagan society.
Herod the Great
In 37 BC Antipater’s son Herod, whom we know as Herod the Great, became king of the Roman Province of Judea, including Judea, Samaria, Galilee, Perea, and some territories beyond, and continued for 33 years.
Herod the Great knew about Yehuda HaMaccabi, and understood that the Jews, even during an era in which many of them were living pagan lives, might revolt against enforced paganism, particularly emperor worship. He persuaded Caesar to exempt the Jews from the Roman pagan religion. Instead, the Jews would pay a punitive tax, the fiscus Judaicus.
The Roman emperors liked Herod. Judea was the crossroads of the ancient world. All the important trade routes ran through it. Herod used the vast profits from trade to finance some of the greatest building projects in history.
Herod knew that the Pharisees held him in contempt because he was an Idumean. He sought to win them over by the greatest of all his building projects, rebuilding the Second Temple. Although Herod rebuilt the Temple from the ground up, historians speak of it as the “Second Temple,” that King Cyrus of Persia had rebuilt five centuries earlier, because the Temple sacrifices continued during its construction.
Some six million Jews then lived in the Roman Empire, plus another million in Persia; many came to Jerusalem for each of the three pilgrimage festivals, pesakh, shavuot and sukkot. It took ten thousand men ten years just to build the retaining walls around the Temple Mount.
Josephus described it: “Now the outward face of the temple in its front wanted nothing that was likely to surprise either men’s minds or their eyes, for it was covered all over the plates of gold of great weight, and, at the first rising of the sun, reflected back a very fiery splendor, and made those who forced themselves to look upon it to turn their eyes away, just as they would have done at the sun’s own rays. But this temple appeared to strangers, when they were at a distance, like a mountain covered with snow; for, as to those parts of it that were not gilt, they were exceeding white.”4
The Holy of Holies was covered in gold. The other buildings had walls and columns of white marble. Their floors were Carrara, the beautiful white marble with a subtle blue tinge that gave a sense of a moving sea.5 Josephus described the gate between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies: “… golden doors of fifty-five cubits altitude, and sixteen in breadth; but before these doors there was a veil of equal largeness with the doors. It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and of a contexture that was truly wonderful. Nor was this mixture of colors without its mystical interpretation, but was a kind of image of the universe; for by the scarlet there seemed to be enigmatically signified fire, by the fine flax the earth, by the blue the air, and by the purple the sea; two of them having their colors the foundation of this resemblance; but the fine flax and the purple have their own origin for that foundation, the earth producing the one, and the sea the other. This curtain had also embroidered upon it all that was mystical in the heavens, excepting that of the [twelve] signs, representing living creatures.”6
The Slaughter of the Innocents
One of Herod’s final public acts was his war against Rabbi Yeshua, in the Slaughter of the Innocents: “Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the Wise Men, was in a furious rage, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time which he had ascertained from the Wise Men” Mt 2:16.
The Roman province of Judea, Herod the Great’s kingdom, was divided into four parts. Herod Antipas, youngest son of Herod the Great and an avowed pagan, became a tetrarch, ruler of a quarter. His territories were Galilee and Perea.
This Herod wanted to make pagans of all the Jews. He knew that he could not entirely separate the Jews from Judaism, so he planned to leave them the outer forms of Judaism while making its heart and soul pagan. He continued re-building the magnificent Temple while trying to corrupt the people it would serve. Rabbi Yeshua told them: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” Mt 23:27.
Rabbi Yeshua gave an example: “And why do you transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him surely die.’ But you say, ‘If any one tells his father or his mother, what you would have gained from me is given to God, he need not honor his father.’ So, for the sake of your tradition, you have made void the word of God” Mt 15:3–6.”
The Jewish Wars
Josephus dated the Jewish Wars as from the time Antiochus IV took Jerusalem in 168 BC to about three years after Titus destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70, a total of nearly 240 years, including the days of Rabbi Yeshua. Jerusalem during the time of Rabbi Yeshua had some twenty-four different factions. Among the most prominent were the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Scribes and the Zealots. The hellenized and assimilated Jews were comfortable with the Roman presence. It was prosperity for them, and they deeply resented Jews who resisted Roman domination.
Even the Torah observant Jews took sides. Some followed Rabbi Hillel while others followed Rabbi Shammai. Hillel’s followers intensely disapproved of Shammai’s teachings, and Shammai’s followers intensely disapproved of Hillel’s teachings.
Mishna Yoma 9b tells us that it was called a time of sinat khinam, hatred without cause. But there was a cause. Demons hate without cause. As the prophets proclaimed, vast multitudes of Jews had turned away from our Father toward pagan lives that emphasized gratification of self. The pagan “gods” were demons. The Jewish nation got what it had chosen.
Our patient Father had warned them with increasing urgency. He had sent sixteen writing prophets, and many more who are little remembered today. He had twice given them the promised land and taken it back when they had fallen away. And he had warned them through the Temple itself.
It was a time when pagan Jews who associated themselves with each sect were so angry with Jews of other sects that they were willing to kill, in grave violation of our Father’s law. True Torah Jews revered pikuakh nefesh and would never violate the Fifth Commandment.
Our Father Withdraws
There comes a time in every spiritual life when God tests our faith through desolation, withdrawing our sense of his presence to show us that we can persevere and through greater effort grow stronger. God withdrew the sense of his presence from the people Israel to prepare them for the Mashiakh’s arrival.
In the time of Moses God’s presence in the Tabernacle was visible to all. “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead them along the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light” Ex 13:21. Inside the Tabernacle, atop the Ark of the Covenant, God’s Shkhina glory illuminated the Holy of Holies “from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are upon the ark of the covenant, I will speak with you of all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel” Ex 25:22. And the Ark of the Covenant contained “A golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s rod that budded, and the tables of the covenant” Heb 9:4.
In the time of Solomon God’s presence remained, but it was hidden from the sight of Israel. “So the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim” 2 Chr 5:7. And “There was nothing in the ark except the two tables which Moses put there at Horeb, where the Lord made a covenant with the people of Israel, when they came out of Egypt” 2 Chr 5:10.
By Rabbi Yeshua’s time the Ark was not in the Holy of Holies at all. The Holy of Holies was an empty room. The psalmist had prophesied, “Arise, O Lord, and go to your resting place, you and the ark of your might” Ps 132:8. Jeremiah was more emphatic. “And when you have multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, says the Lord, they shall no more say, ‘The ark of the covenant of the Lord.’ It shall not come to mind, or be remembered, or missed; it shall not be made again” Jer 3:16. The last record we have of the Ark was Josiah’s command to the Levites, “Put the holy ark in the house which Solomon the son of David, king of Israel, built” 2 Chr 35:3. Soon afterward, Nebuchadnezzar “carried off all the treasures of the house of the Lord, and the treasures of the king’s house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold in the Temple of the Lord, which Solomon king of Israel had made” 2 Kings 24:13. Centuries later, Rabbi Yeshua told the Jewish authorities, “Behold, your house is forsaken and desolate” Mt 23:38. Finally, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two,” but the Gospels say nothing of anything inside.
After the time of Shimon HaTzadik, the inspired writings of the Hebrew Scriptures gradually stopped.
During the time when Israel was torn our Father spoke to his children directly through Amos, Hosea, Isaiah and Micah. During the Babylonian Exile, 587-538 BC He spoke through Zephaniah, Jeremiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Ezekiel, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Daniel.
But during the Persian era, 538-333 BC, the Hellenistic era 333-63 BC, and the Roman era, when the Israelites had sunk even more deeply into sin, our Father gradually stopped sending prophets. Instead, He spoke to us through khazal, sages. It was a mercy, because it is far worse to sin in direct confrontation with God.
A True History
Our far-seeing Father always brings good from evil. He did not will the long, long decline of his people Israel, but he uses it to prove the shining truth of the inspired Holy Scriptures. No race would give itself such a history of decline unless it were true. The evidence from this true history is that our fallen race cannot reach God without the Mashiakh’s sanctifying grace.
First century Judaism saw women as unfit for any active role in salvation history. Rabbi Yokhanan tells us: “Just then his disciples came. They marveled that he was talking with a woman” Jn 4:27. Yet Rabbi Yeshua made his mother the new Eve. No group of Jews inviting others to join them would give such a role to a woman unless it were true.
After his children descended so deeply into paganism and fought so much against one another, most human fathers would look for a big planet to hurl at the earth. But our Father in heaven responded with the greatest act of mercy in salvation history. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only-begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” Jn 3:16.
St. John the Baptizer
Rabbi Yokhanan haMatbil was the last of the Hebrew prophets to foretell the arrival of God’s Mashiakh. His Hebrew name, Yokhanan, meant “a gift from God.” Yokhanan haMatbil was born of aging parents Lk 1:7, as Isaac was Gen 18:11, a mark of the Old Testament. Rabbi Yeshua, by contrast, was born of a young virgin, the beginning of another world.
Rabbi Yokhanan’s most crucial teaching was the need for humility before the living Mashiakh. “He must increase, but I must decrease” Jn 3:30. Holy Mother Church celebrates only two solemnities of birth: Rabbi Yeshua’s on December 25, and Rabbi Yokhanan’s on June 24. December 25 is near the beginning of the winter solstice, after which the days grow longer and longer for six months. “He must increase.” June 24 is near the beginning of the summer solstice, after which the days grow shorter and shorter for six months. “I must decrease.”
Rabbi Yokhanan also said even more humbly, “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” Mt 3:11. This was a reference to the ancient desert custom in which the lowest servant in a house would wash the feet of his master’s guests. Before a servant could wash a man’s feet, he had to carry the sandals to where they would remain during his visit. A man not worthy to carry the sandals would be unworthy even to be the lowest servant.