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September 2014


Erase My Name from Your Book

By GARY ALLEY

The Jewish New Year, Rosh haShanah, begins this Wednesday night, Sept 24th.  In Jewish tradition, it is a time of spiritual introspection, for accounting of one’s relationship with God and others —forgiving and being forgiven.  Two central images of this holiday are the blowing of a shofar (ram’s horn) and the Book of Life.  While the practice of Rosh haShanah has evolved over the millennia, these two motifs—the horn and the book—are rooted in the Bible.

In the Bible, this festival is not a New Year celebration, but rather the first day of the seventh month.  It is a special Sabbath known as a “day of [horn] blasts”.  Beyond its sacrificial offerings, we know little more from the Bible concerning this Sabbath.[1]

Yet, the latent meaning of its name—“horn blasts”[2]—easily found significance in ominous themes of judgment.  This blast of the shofar, the trumpet, and the human voice, echoes in biblical scenes of war, alarm, and destruction.[3]  Even more importantly, these blasts usher in the presence of the Lord, much like a coronation scene for a king (Ps 47:5).  And when a sovereign enters, judgment soon follows.

As I looked, thrones were placed, and the Ancient of Days took his seat;
his clothing was white as snow, and the hair of his head like pure wool;
his throne was fiery flames; its wheels were burning fire.
A stream of fire issued and came out from before him;
a thousand thousands served him,
and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him;
the court sat in judgment, and the books were opened.
  Dan 7:9-10

Books are opened during judgment.  In the biblical tradition, only the righteous have their names written in a book.[4]  This book of the righteous comes to be called the Book of Life.[5]

At the same time, the horn blast begins to herald the last judgment as seen in the New Testament: 

And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet blast, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.[6]  I will tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed–in a moment, in the blinking of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.[7]  For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.[8]

Yet, despite Rosh haShanah’s arduous call for individual and national repentance, the greater challenge one may learn from its biblical background is intercession.  While repentance for one’s own sins is a righteous action, and concern for one’s own name being written in the Book of Life is laudable, does our heart prayer go beyond our self-introspection and self-concern and intercede for the wicked?

In the book of Exodus, God gives Moses the tablets of the Law on Mount Sinai.  While Moses is gone for forty days on the mountain, the people of Israel rebelliously begin worshiping the golden calf.  God declares to Moses that he plans to wipe out Israel and then will make a new nation from Moses.  Instead of capitalizing on this new found promotion, Moses argues with God to change His mind and remember His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Moses even goes so far as to ask God to forgive the sins of the people, and if not, then, asks that God would erase Moses’ name from His book as well (Ex 32).

Paul followed Moses’ example of selfless love when he declared a similar thought: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart.  For I could wish that I myself were accursed—cut off from Christ—for the sake of my people, my fellow countrymen who are Israelites.” (Rom 9:2-4a)

And of course, Jesus’ words on the cross also affirm this spirit of intercession for the lost when he cried: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing (Lk 23:34).”  Jesus as the Suffering Servant, bearing the sins and sufferings of others, has become common-place, staid, and stale within the Church.  The unnerving question is, what if he has called us disciples to the same purpose?


[1] Lev 23:23-25; Num 29:1-6

[2] In Hebrew, תְּרוּעָ֖ה “teruah.”

[3] Num 10:5; 31:6; Josh 6:20; 1 Sam 4:5; Jer 20:16; Zeph 1:16; Amos 1:14; 2:2; Ezk 21:22; Job 39:25.

[4] Ex 32:32; Mal 3:16; Dan 12:1

[5] Ps 69:28; Phil 4:3; Rev 3:5; 13:8; 20:11-15

[6] Mt 24:31

[7] I Cor 15:51-52

[8] I Thes 4:16

A Good Land

Israel’s Seven Species: Honey

 By GARY ALLEY

Deuteronomy is a book of expectations. In this final book of the Pentateuch, God stokes the Israelites’ expectations concerning their entrance into the long-awaited “Promised Land”, while at the same time, He explains the rules that they are expected to follow.  One of these expectations is the agricultural bounty of the land of Canaan, often summed up by the so-called seven species.  During the time of Jesus, only these seven varieties[1] were presented in the Temple at Jerusalem as offerings of the first fruits festival (Ex 34:26).

“For the Lord your God is bringing you to a good land, a land of brooks, springs, and fountains flowing forth in valleys and hills, a land of wheat, barley, grapevines, figs, and pomegranates, of olive oil and honey (Dt 8:7-8).”


Honey is a sweet food which is obtained from several sources, the most prominent being bees’ production from flower nectar.  Honey was used as a multifaceted, diverse symbol within the biblical text.  The Bible’s well-known description of Canaan, as a “land flowing with milk and honey,” has often been interpreted as a testimony to the Land’s abundance and blessing.  Though, on the other hand, the uncultivated, inconsistency of honey was used as a sign of social collapse (Isa 7:22-23).  The use of honey was forbidden for sacrifice (Lev 2:11), though its sweetness was compared to the wisdom and word of the Lord.[2]

Probably the most famous biblical story involving honey is Samson’s riddle to the Philistines after he found wild honey[3] in the carcass of a lion that he had previously slain (Jud 14:12-18).  A lesser known story is King Saul’s son, Jonathan, finding and eating wild honey during a campaign against the Philistines.  His taste of honey nearly brings about his death because of an oath sworn by his father (I Sam 14:24-45).  John the Baptist’s diet of locust and honey has often been highlighted as an austere and feral lifestyle (Mt 3:4).

In Jewish tradition, honey plays an important role in the celebration of Rosh haShanah.  Apples are dipped in honey representing hopes for a “sweet” New Year.

In the Ancient Near East, honey was also made from the juice of different fruit, like grapes, dates, and figs.  This type of man-made fruit honey is still produced today in the Middle East being called dibs in Arabic.  Until recently, many scholars[4] assumed that dibs date honey was probably what the Bible referred to when it spoke of Canaan “flowing with milk and honey”[5] since no remains of a beehive industry had ever been found in Israel or anywhere in the Ancient Near East.  Yet, starting in 2005, a startling discovery of approximately one hundred beehives housing an estimated million bees was made at Tel Rehov, an Israelite settlement from the time of the biblical monarchy.  (For a video, here.)  While this finding has reignited the debate of “which honey” the Bible refers to, perhaps we could make room at our biblical table for both.


[1] Mishna Bikkurim 1,3

[2] Ps 19:9-10; Pr 24:13-14

[3] Other examples of undomesticated honey: Dt 32:13; Ps 81:16

[4] Also rabbinic tradition, see Jerusalem Talmud Bikkurim 1:3

[5] The phrase “ flowing with milk and honey” appears 20 times in the Bible.  Scholars have argued that this phrase “flowing with milk and honey” refers to human production, storage, and trade of honey.  Many have seen dibs honey as more conducive to this end.  Regarding honey trade, see Gen 43:11 and Ezk 27:17.

Charity Report: Jerusalem Holocaust Survivors

JCF has been giving toward Holocaust survivors living Jerusalem.  This is an update from the International Christian Embassy which we have been partnering with.

There are approximately twelve needy and very lonely Holocaust survivors in Jerusalem who have been receiving loving care and companionship from an aid organization with whom we partner.  These Survivors receive monthly checks to support them economically and receive regular volunteer visitors, which is also very important to them.  A very nice program was begun to link boys from a local institution for disadvantaged children and youth, to some of these Holocaust Survivors.  This has greatly benefited both the teenage boys and the elderly survivors.

Loneliness is a huge problem to people who have lost all their family and often their spouse.  Visiting some of these Jerusalem Survivors regularly ourselves, we know how important this program is which supplies both financial and emotional support. 

The donations of JCF have been used in part to maintain the ongoing expense of supporting these survivors in Jerusalem with monthly help in form of coupons for food items.  The other part has been used to cover maintenance problems in their homes. For example, when our staff visited a 90 year old Survivor, her small, modest apartment was quite dark owing to a broken slatted shutter which could not be raised and had been like this for more than a week.  Having received the gift from JCF, we were in a position to immediately arrange its replacement.  One of her most terrible memories is from her home town of Yasi in Romania where she suffered terribly from violence and terror.  She lost most of her family and witnessed people being pulled out of their homes and killed.  She finds it very difficult to talk about those memories. She is suffering from many health problems, does not have children, and lost her husband many years ago.  Visits from Christians like us mean the world to her.

News in Israel and the Middle East

  • Rosh haShanah begins this Wednesday night, Sept 24th, ushering in the ten Days of Awe which culminate with the great fast of Yom haKippurim (Day of Atonement) on the night of Oct 3rd.
  • Hamas has admitted to kidnapping the three Israeli teenagers, Gil-Ad Shaer, Naftali Fraenkel, and Eyal Yifrah, this past June which helped sparked Israel's summer-long war with Hamas in Gaza.  Until now, Hamas had denied their involvement in the kidnapping. 
  • Israeli population nears 9 million.  More
  • Israel has joined an international effort to combat Ebola. The 2014 Ebola outbreak is the largest Ebola outbreak in history and the first in West Africa.  The death total is approaching 3,000.
  • With the recent beheading of several Western hostages, more than 40 nations, led by the United States, have joined a coalition against ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria).  This week 45,000 Kurds fled into Turkey in front of ISIS's advance. 
  • In Israel, the focus is not ISIS but rather Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon.  Gaza's 4,500 rockets that were fired this summer, pale in comparison to Hezbollah's estimated arsenal of 100,000 rockets and missiles.
  • A huge stalactite and stalagmite cave has been found in the Judean hills of Israel.  More.  Stalactites and stalagmites are created by the slow dripping and depositing of material — often limestone — in underground caves over many thousands of years.  For more on Israel's most well-known Avshalom stalactite cave, here.

Prayer Requests and Praise Reports

 

JCF has been giving toward Holocaust survivors living Jerusalem.  This is an update from the International Christian Embassy which we have been partnering with.

 
There are approximately twelve needy and very lonely Holocaust survivors in Jerusalem who have been receiving loving care and companionship from an aid organization with whom we partner.   These Survivors receive monthly checks to support them economically and receive regular volunteer visitors, which is also very important to them.  A very nice program was begun to link boys from a local institution for disadvantaged children and youth, to some of these Holocaust Survivors.  This has greatly benefited both the teenage boys and the elderly survivors.
 
Loneliness is a huge problem to people who have lost all their family and often their spouse.  Visiting some of these Jerusalem Survivors regularly ourselves, we know how important this program is which supplies both financial and emotional support.  
 
The donations of JCF have been used in part with help to maintain the ongoing expense of supporting these survivors in Jerusalem with monthly help in form of coupons for food items.  The other part has been used to cover maintenance problems in their homes. For example, when our staff visited a 90 year old Survivor, her small, modest apartment was quite dark owing to a broken slatted shutter which could not be raised and had been like this for more than a week.   Having received the gift from JCF, we were in a position to immediately arrange its replacement.  One of hermost  terrible memories is from her home town of Yasi in Romania where she suffered terribly from violence and terror.  She lost most of her family and witnessed people being pulled out of their homes and killed.  She finds it very difficult to talk about those memories. She is suffering from many health problems, does not have children, and lost her husband many years ago.  Visits from Christians like us mean the world to her.