The Meaning of Sukkot

Sukkot / Feast of Tabernacles

Sukkot at western wall

Sukkot celebration at the Western Wall

The week-long Jewish festival of Sukkot (or the Feast of Tabernacles) is upon us! Coming just after Yom Kippur, the most solemn time in the Jewish calendar year, Succot is a time of joy and celebration. It just started just last night in Israel.

With permission, I am sharing an excellent article written by a Messianic ministry called One For IsraelThe article is called The Meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles. What I appreciated about the article is the Christocentric connections the author makes between Succot and the life and ministry of Yeshua/Jesus.

Here is the article:

The Meaning of the Feast of Tabernacles

sukkot celebration

Sukkot celebration

The Feast of Sukkot is one of my favourites. All of God’s feasts are full of creativity and wonder; treasures and promises. But in Jewish literature, Sukkot is often simply called “THE feast”. The biggie – no other clarification needed. Three times a year, all of Israel were supposed to make the trek to Jerusalem for Passover and Shavuot in the Spring, and then Sukkot in the fall. Sukkot means “shelters”, “booths”, or “tabernacles”. This is a feast in which God instructs his people to set about making a temporary shelter or booth to camp out in for a week. As a kid I loved making dens, and Sukkot is a bit like that. But why in the world did God want us to make dens?

Why build a booth?

In his creative genius, seen not only in the natural world around us but also in the law that God himself dictated, we can see that God also knew how effective building a shelter would be to provoke thought. He knew that this activity would help remind people of the journey that they had taken with him through the wilderness. That time of desert wandering was where the nation was forged once and for all as a community of faith, following the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Their tents were only temporary – they were traveling towards a more permanent home, where they could live with their God.

The rabbinic prescription for these dens has become quite intricate, but in essence, there must be at least three walls (made of wood or material, usually) and the roof must be made from natural materials like palm fronds, so that you can see the night sky through the gaps. These shelters are to remind the people of Israel about the time they journeyed through the wilderness in temporary shelters, picking up and moving on as necessary. For the week, people are supposed to eat in their sukka, and even sleep in them, if they’re feeling crazy! They are usually decorated with seasonal fruits and produce, and it’s a fun family activity to build a sukka and decorate it together. Nowadays, of course, you can buy ready-to-build sukkot, like tents or portable cabins, and decorations are in the shops all ready made to add the finishing touches.

A time for sharing and fellowship

It is traditional to invite guests each night of the week long feast, to share and enjoy the sukka together – to extend hospitality, friendship and stories. It is a time to celebrate the fruits of the harvest, and to rejoice, giving thanks for all God has given us, and give back to God in return. Deuteronomy 16:13-17 says:

succa or booth

The Succa or “booth”

 

“You shall keep the Feast of Booths for seven days, when you have gathered in the produce from your threshing floor and your wine press. You shall rejoice in your feast, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow who are within your towns. For seven days you shall keep the feast to the Lord your God at the place that the Lord will choose, because the Lord your God will bless you in all your produce and in all the work of your hands, so that you will be altogether joyful.

 “Three times a year all your males shall appear before the Lord your God at the place that he will choose:
at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, at the Feast of Weeks, and at the Feast of Booths.
They shall not appear before the Lord empty-handed.

Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the Lord your God that he has given you.

The Lord outlines his instructions about this feast three times, in Leviticus 23, Numbers 29 and Deuteronomy 16. It is a time that he wants his people to recognise what they have by offering food from their harvest, and it is a time when he has commanded his people to REJOICE! God wants us to go through this process of remembering, gathering, thanking, giving, and rejoicing.

Can we be joyful on command?

Perhaps it seems strange to you to be commanded to rejoice, but the Bible does indeed command it many times. Can we just “switch on” this emotion? First of all, rejoicing is an act, rather than an emotion, but secondly, there are certainly things that we can do in order to position ourselves to be filled with joy.

Thankfulness

As we reflect upon all the good things in our lives, and count our blessings, we inevitably find we have much to rejoice about. I have a habit of writing a list of thanks every morning in a lined notepad, and make sure that I get to the bottom of the page before I stop! The notepads vary in size, but the discipline is a good one to get into. I have heard it said that recalling just 5 things that you’re grateful for each morning will have a signficant affect on your outlook. Another exercise is to go through the alphabet, one letter at a time, thinking of something to be grateful for beginning with each letter. You get the idea. Being thankful takes a bit of concerted effort at the beginning, but becomes more and more natural, the more we do it. And the more we maintain an attitude of gratitude, the more joyful we will inevitably become.

Be full of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit naturally produces the fruit of joy in our lives, and all the more so, when we are willing to let him fill us completely. God loves to give us his Spirit, and the fruits of the Spirit are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). In fact, we are commanded in Ephesians 5:18 to be full of the Holy Spirit. How do we do that? Yeshua’s answer in Luke 11 is simple: Ask! Yeshua assures us that the Father is eager and ready to give the Holy Spirit to those who ask. However, when we are “full of ourselves”, we cannot be full of the Spirit. We must be willing to give the Spirit more space, control and authority in our lives. When we are full of sin, pride, fear and so on, our ego gets in the way, but we can come before God, confess our sins, receive his forgiveness, and invite him to take first place again by faith. Our prayer can be, “Less of me and more of you, Lord!”

Joy comes from obedience

It is said that if you are feeling grumpy, just the act of similing repeatedly can improve your mood. In a similar way, a rabbi’s advice to a man who was struggling to love his wife was to do the acts that he would do as if he did love her, and that in time, the feelings would inevitably follow. The famous Jewish sage, Rambam, said that if he had 1000 coins to give, he would rather give 1000 men one coin rather than 1000 coins to one man, because the repeated act of giving 1000 times would make him into a more generous man. Our actions can become habits, which can then influence our heart. In this same way, we can rejoice before God; thanking him, worshiping him and rejoicing even when we don’t feel like it, but if we continue to obey his command to rejoice, eventually our hearts will truly become filled with joy.

Fellowshipping with God

We have each come a long way, and been on an adventurous journey, like the Israelites. It’s a good time to reflect on God’s goodness and provision along the way, and to remember how he brought us through the difficult times, the deserts, in our lives. And the glorious thing about Sukkot is that it also points towards God’s desire to dwell with his people. His provision is not merely physical (although we have much to be grateful for on that account) but he has also not held back his only Son, just so that we can live together with him for eternity.

Sukkot celebrationWe can have fellowship with God because he came down to earth as a man, and tabernacled among us. He became flesh and blood, visible and touchable, God incarnate, living among his people on earth, and though his Spirit now lives, or tablernacles, in our lives if we will invite him in. Yeshua says; “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”  (Revelation 3:20) Here’s how Yeshua’s best friend put it:

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes… that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.” (1 John 1:1-4)

And hundreds of years beforehand, Zechariah prophesied this very event:

“Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell [tabernacle] in your midst, declares the Lord. And many nations shall join themselves to the Lord in that day, and shall be my people.
And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you.” (Zech 2:10-11)

Sukkot also points prophetically towards Yeshua’s second coming, and the ultimate end of all things, when God will dwell among us, and we will live with him forever. What a reason to rejoice!

(Share with permission – October 4, 2017)

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Jerusalem IS Israel’s Biblical Capital!

Jerusalem Embassy

The plot of land in Jerusalem designated for years now for the future US Embassy

The present discussion whether Jerusalem should be defined as “Israel’s capital” has been quite captivating. However to be perfectly honest, this discussion has also been quite disappointing, to say the least. Although one cannot escape this being at least in part a political issue, to me it primarily an historical issue and ultimately is a biblical one.

Now I usually try and stay away of political issues in my blogs and in social media. However, at least some political observations must be made here. Thus, within politically circles, I must confess that I continually am appalled (but of course not surprised like most of you I suspect) by anti-Semitic world organizations such as United Nations, Unesco, the Arab League of Nations, etc… who do not consider Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The outright hatred and scorn against the tiny State of Israel trumps (no pun intended) everything else. At the same time and to be perfectly honest (and this may upset some of you), I am equally very troubled to hear our present US Administration disclose their intentions to not move the US Embassy to Israel’s capital of Jerusalem. I hope I am wrong on this observation, but for now it appears that no move is imminent.

US Embassy Israel

The US Embassy is presently in Tel Aviv

Listening to primary sources these last few days about not moving the Embassy to Jerusalem signals not only a huge broken promise to the US voter this past November, but it also serves as a slap in the face of Israel, the only true democracy in the Middle East. Of about 210 world countries where the United States recognize without hesitation their declared capital, Israel is the only country whose capital is not recognized as legitimate. Simply, to not recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital (where, by the way, the Kinesset, the Prime Minister’s office, and all the Israeli government buildings are located) is a big-time betrayal in every respect. Today, the United States only have their consulates (two of them, one in west Jerusalem and the other in east Jerusalem) in Israel’s capital. The Embassy is in Tel Aviv. We pass it on each and every tour I lead.

This means at this point of Trump’s presidency, it appears as if nothing has changed in decades. Every recent president has made endless campaign promises to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, but have always fallen short of acting upon the promise. So once again, the tragic and a-historic statement that “no state has sovereignty over Jerusalem” wins the day. Such a statement is based on false historical assumptions (e.g. namely about the historicity of the so-called Palestinian people and the even bigger myth that Israel occupies and even settles land that is not theirs). This is so very disappointing to me. But in today’s world, truth just doesn’t matter any more. Only fiction and false narratives/news does. Tragic!

In a recent Conservative Review article (by Jordan Schachtel, May 17, 2017), it was said that “by proclaiming that ‘no state has sovereignty’ over Jerusalem, the Trump administration finds itself in a position that is wholly rejected by a bipartisan consensus of congressional leaders.” Schachtel writes, “The Jerusalem Embassy Act, which was originally passed in 1995 by an almost unanimous consensus in Congress, calls for the United States to move its embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.” Even more appalling was the statement made by certain congressional leaders refer to the Western Wall of the 2nd Temple (the most holy place for Jews today) as not being part of Israel. What? Even the spokesperson for the White House yesterday fell short of recognizing the Western Wall as “part of Israel.” Really? Respectfully, but are you kidding me?  At least I hold out hope that when the President himself plans to visit the Western Wall on May 22, that he declares loud and clear something different.

South wall excavations in Jerusalem

The Southern Excavations of the Temple in Jerusalem

But let’s change direction and talk about the historical and the biblical issues. The historical roots of Jerusalem being the capital of Israel goes back 3,000 years. It goes back to the days of King David when he captured the city from the Jebusites (2 Samuel 5). Jerusalem would become such an important part of “biblical Israel” that it is even mentioned slightly over 800 times in the Bible. Parenthetically, I must also say that Jerusalem is not even mentioned once in the Koran. From ancient times, Jerusalem has always been Israel’s capital city. Yet in today’s environment it is seemingly wrong to bring up anything that is anchored in the historical, let alone the biblical. Yet the truth of Scripture clearly states that Jerusalem was the Jewish capital until 70 AD when the Romans destroyed it.

Yet I suppose part of the acceptance of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is connected with how one views what happened in 1948. It was in May of 1948 that Israel became a Jewish State, with David Ben Gurion the first Prime Minister. While it was only a small portion, relatively speaking, of the historic land given to modern Israel (“biblical Israel” consisted of lands in Judea, Samaria, and even on the east side o the Jordan River according to the land given by God to the 12 Tribes), the Jewish State now has land they could call their own!  Even though the United Nations trimmed dramatically from the League of Nations declaration in 1920 the amount of land Israel should have, Israel at least had some land.

The ISraeli flag

The Israeli flag

Was 1948 the fulfillment of biblical prophecy? I personally believe that 1948 revealed the beginning stages of the unfolding of God’s redemptive plan for not only His people, our Jewish friends. Like clay in the potter’s hand, God is shaping and molding ethnic Israel in the last days for His glory and honor. Yet even more exciting, God is also shaping the world for a redemptive purpose as well. There is coming a day when the whole world will gather in Jerusalem and recognize the coming of God’s redemption (Zechariah 14). In fact, this will come about when the Messiah stands on the Mt. of Olives. We, of course, believe that this Messiah will be none other than Jesus when He returns.  But it will be Jerusalem where this all unfolds for the world to see! How glorious!

In the meantime, we are to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6).” I also believe we should pray for boldness for world leaders (including our very own president) to recognize the historic and biblical roots of Jerusalem for the Jewish people.

Pray for the peace of JerusalemPolitically, I do hope and pray that not only the US Embassy, but the embassies of many other countries move to Jerusalem. I am thankful for those in leadership positions on both sides of the aisle who boldly support Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Moving the embassy to Jerusalem would be much more than symbolic. Specifically, such a move would be in recognition of the historical and biblical roots of our Jewish friends! It would recognize Israel’s biblical right to exist!

 

 

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Urgent Message About Sunday’s Gathering of 70 Nations

Un resoutionThis is a very important word from our friends at Bridges for Peace here in Jerusalem. It concerns this coming Sunday’s gathering of 70 nations in Paris, France. They will be discussing and perhaps finalizing the anti-Israel UN Resolution 2334 condemning Israel.  Yes, this is a political issue. But more than this, many view this as a prophetic issue relating to the nations gathering together to single out Israel. Simply put – the lack of peace in the region has nothing to do with Israel building so-called settlements on the so-called West Bank. This is a convenient excuse for the historical reality of Jewish right and presence in the land for the last 3,000 years! Rather, the lack of peace has everything to do with the Palestinian Authority not willing to agree to Israel’s existence and wanting to completely drive every Jew into the sea, bringing a complete end to the Jewish State. It’s really as simply as this.

This update is shared by Rev. Cheryl Hauer. I met with her and other Bridges for Peace staff about 4 months ago in Jerusalem. She shares a good and insightful word!

Pray for the peace of Israel!

Christians Cannot Let Israel Stand Alone Against the Nations

Thursday, 12 January 2017 |

Israel is facing very real and imminent danger to her very existence; if ever the intercession of her Christian friends was critical it is at this very moment in history. This Sunday, January 15, 2017, has the frightening potential to join the ranks of those historic days that are known as “dates that will live in infamy,” specific anniversaries of events that altered the course of history with often disastrous results. Representatives from 70 nations will convene in France to “breathe new life into the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.”

However, Israel, her Christian friends and her allies in the US Congress view the event as a sham forum whose purpose is to force Israel to accept a two-state solution with the Palestinian Authority. Coming on the heels of UN Resolution 2334 which condemned Israeli “settlement” activity as illegal, and demanded that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the ‘occupied’ Palestinian territory, including east Jerusalem,” there is little likelihood of any outcome other than the vilification of Israel and global support for the formation of two states based on pre-1967 “borders.” The US Congress has passed its own resolution, by an overwhelming majority of both parties, demanding the revocation of 2334.

bridges for peaceThere has been much speculation that lame duck US President Barack Obama and his administration were the force behind Resolution 2334, and in a staggering change in policy, the US abstained rather than voting against it at the UN Security Council. Out-going US Secretary of State John Kerry will not only be present at Sunday’s conference, but is making the diplomatic rounds, meeting with leaders of the UK, Germany and Switzerland. In a speech a few days after the passage of the anti-settlement resolution, Kerry outlined again his plan for Mideast peace which Israeli leaders have called “an absolute disaster for Israel.” The speech served only to further inflame the already seething distrust between the soon-to-be-gone US administration and Israel.

There is further concern that the outcome of the Paris initiative will become another resolution to be brought to the UN Security Council next week, potentially securing international support for the implementation of Kerry’s plan just a few short days before President-elect Donald Trump, and his very pro-Israel team, takes office. The results of such an outcome would be devastating, not just for Israel but for the entire world.

Many Christians and Jews worldwide think it no coincidence that there are 70 nations on the guest list for Sunday’s event. Seventy has long been the number that represents all the nations of the earth, based on the lineage of Noah in the Torah (Gen.–Deut.). Thus, they say, we may well be seeing the fulfillment of yet another prophecy as “all nations” are coming out against Israel.

As those who call upon the name of the Lord, we have been set apart as watchmen on the wall for Jerusalem, as those who would fight for Israel in the heavenly realms. As Israel faces the wrath of the nations, it is critical that Christians unite in prayer, calling upon the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob to deliver His people from this evil attempt to destroy them. For decades, many Christians have been reaching out to Israel and the Jewish people, working to build relationships of sincerity and respect. We have acknowledged that the Church failed in its mandate to support God’s chosen people during the Holocaust, turning a blind eye to the horror that was befalling them and there are 6 million reminders of that failure. Let us not make that same mistake again! We have promised our Jewish friends that they can count us. Let’s make good on that promise. Pray as often as possible and with great diligence between now and Sunday evening. Join with us and a powerful global army of believers as we storm the gates of heaven, trusting our God to deliver His people once again.

Rev. Cheryl L. Hauer

International Development Director,

Bridges for Peace

Jerusalem

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Israel… Whose Land Is It?

Israeli settlements

A Jewish community in the so-called “West Bank.”

In referring to the physical land of Israel, the question “Whose land is it?” has been a popular one among world leaders, politicians, and even theologians and pastors. Some would argue that the whole peace process is based on being able to answer this one question. In some ways, it is complicated in terms of defining modern borders in a very ancient region of the world. In other ways, it is quite simple: We have one group of people (the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, or PA) who don’t want peace and who wishes for the total destruction of another group of people, Jewish Israelis. Very simply (and sadly), the PA doesn’t want peace with Jews (it’s in their Charter), while the Israelis want peace for everyone!

About this issue of land and so-called “settlements,” I came across a very interesting article written by Rachel Avraham. Rachel, a Jew, lives in one of these Jewish communities (a much better term than “settlements”) in the biblical region called Samaria (called the “West Bank” today). Her own experiences and perspectives are very interesting and insightful.

Jewish settlements, West Bank map

A map of Judea & Samaria (called the “West Bank” today).

Here is what Rachel Avraham (in a Jerusalem Online article) said –

Nevertheless, despite Israeli lobbying on the issue, US Secretary of State John Kerry also appears to think that the settlements are an obstacle to peace and make the two-state solution very difficult to implement: “The facts speak for themselves. The number of settlers in the roughly 130 Israeli settlements east of the 1967 lines has steadily grown. The settler population in the West Bank alone not including East Jerusalem has increased by nearly 270,000 since Oslo including 100,000 just since 2009 when President Obama’s term began. This is not to say that the settlements are the whole or even primary cause of the conflict. Of course, they are not. Nor can you say that if they were removed, you would have peace without a broader agreement. You would not. And we understand that in a final status agreement, certain settlements would become part of Israel to account for the changes that have occurred over the last 49 years including the new demographic realities on the ground. But if more and more settlers are moving into the middle of Palestinian areas, it is going to be that much harder to separate, that much harder to imagine transferring sovereignty and that is exactly the outcome that some are accelerating.”

“However, supporters of Israel often point out that the Fourth Geneva Convention specifically refers to belligerent occupations and the forceful transfer of people, not the voluntary transfer of civilians to areas that previously belonged to the Jewish people throughout the history that were recaptured during a war of self-defense.   They emphasize that Israel only regained the areas after the 1967 War, which was initiated only after Egyptian and Syrian troops amassed along the Israeli border, former Egyptian President Abdul Gamal Nasser ordered the withdrawal of UN forces, closed off the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping and engaged in incitement on a daily basis and Jordanian forces attacked Israel. Furthermore, they note that the Mandate for Palestine that includes Judea and Samaria as well as East Jerusalem, which was incorporated into international law by the League of Nations at the Sam Remo Conference in 1922, recognized ‘the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine’ and sought to ‘encourage close settlement by Jews on the land.” According to UN official documents, all League of Nations resolutions are also valid for the UN.

In addition, when Jordan conquered the West Bank and Egypt took over Gaza, no one recognized their rights to these lands and at that time, there was no movement to establish a Palestinian state.  Furthermore, when Israel made peace with both Jordan and Egypt, both countries gave up their claims to these territories. Given this, the Israeli side argues that the pre-existing Palestine Mandate resolution that permits Jews to settle in the area is still valid for these areas and therefore the international community has no legal basis to tell Jews not to settle in areas over the green line.  As Professor Eugene Rostow, a former US Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, has written: “The Jewish right of settlement in the area is equivalent in every way to the right of the local population to live there.”

“In legal terms, the West Bank is best regarded as territory over which there are competing claims which should be resolved in peace process negotiations – and indeed both the Israeli and Palestinian sides have committed to this principle,” the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs proclaimed. “Israel has valid claims to title in this territory based not only on the historic Jewish connection to, and long-time residence in this land, its designation as part of the Jewish state under the League of Nations Mandate, and Israel’s legally acknowledged right to secure boundaries but also due to the fact that the territory was not previously under the legitimate sovereignty of any state and came under Israeli control in a war of self-defense. At the same time, Israel recognizes that the Palestinians also entertain claims to this area. It is for this reason that the two sides have expressly agreed to resolve all outstanding issues, including the future of the settlements, in direct bilateral negotiations to which Israel remains committed.”

Jewish settlement or community in Judea

A Jewish community in the region of Judea

I think Rachel’s perspectives are grounded not only upon her own experiences, but with a good grasp of history as well. In answering the question, “Whose land is it?,” facts really do matter!  Sadly, one side (the PA) don’t care about facts. And until this changes (along with the hate for Jews), there will be no peace.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem & Israel. Pray for peace for Arabs and Jews alike!

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The Key to the Holy Sepulcher Church

key to the church of the holy sepulcher

The actual key to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem (Credit: Sara Toth Stub)

When I pastored local churches (two of them over the course of 26 years), it goes without saying that I had a key to the church building. So did others, including most of the church leaders, the organist, the secretary, and our Preschool teachers. Once in a while when a church member who did not have a key to the church, they would knock on our front door asking to borrow the key. It was no problem to do so since we lived close to the church (only two houses down the street for the church in Evansville, MN). Having a key to the church was important!

There is a church in Jerusalem where having the key to the church is actually a big deal as well. In fact, for nearly 1,000 years, the precious key to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher (built in 325 AD), belonged to a Muslim family. The reason may blow your mind!  Could we say that the key to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is priceless?

holy-sepulcher-church-a

The Domes of the Holy Sepulcher Church (Credit: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images)

Todd Bolen (of Bible Places) just shared an intriguing article about the history of this brass key. I’ve known about this “key” issue for some time now, but the article offers peculiar details. In light of the current uncovering of the supposed tomb of Christ this last month (click HERE for the National Geographic article), the story of the key becomes even more interesting.

According to a 53 year-old Arab man named Adeeb Jawad Joudeh Al Husseini, the key to the church was given to his family by Saladin, the Arab invader of the Holy Land during the time of the Crusades. It was the year 1187. At the Horns of Hattim in the Galilee, Saladin offered a crushing blow to the Crusaders on July 4 of that year. Following this victory the Arab invaders advanced to Jerusalem. They would conquer Jerusalem too! According to how the “story” goes, Saladin wanted to make sure that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher was not damaged in any way (unlike what happened in 1009 when the Fatimid caliph al-Hakim ordered churches in Israel to be burned. So according to Al Husseini, “Saladin gave our family the key to protect the church. For our family, this is an honour. And it’s not an honour just for our family, but it’s an honour for all Muslims in the world.”  So ever since 1187, the key has been in the possession of this Muslim family as well as another Muslim family, the Nuseibehs.  You can see them sitting outside the church almost every day!

Syrian monk in Holy Sepulcher Church

A Syrian Orthodox Archbishop, representing one of the sects that uses the church, prays over the Stone of Unction (Credit: Gali Tibbon/AFP/Getty Images)

The key is about 8 inches long. The two massive wooden doors of the church are about 10 inches thick.

One of the reasons why these two families control the entrance into the church is because of the potential fractions that take place on a regular basis among the six different denominations who use various sections of the church – Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Syrian Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox and Coptic Orthodox.

According to the article,

Throughout history, relations have been fraught between the religious communities in this complex, sometimes leading to violence over which church controls which parts of the building. To this day, a 19th-century Ottoman decree attempts to keep these tensions in check by declaring that each church is limited to using the spaces in the building that they controlled back in 1853 when the decree was issued.”

The article shares even more detail about his the church is opened and closed:
“Every morning when the church’s doors open at 4 am, members of the two families – or a representative appointed by them – is present for what has emerged as a ceremonial act of cooperation. The Muslim representative unlocks the latch and pushes open one door, then a clergyman from the Roman Catholic, Greek Orthodox or Armenian Orthodox church – who take turns on a rotating basis – pull open the other door from inside, while clergy from the other denominations supervise. The same happens in reverse when the church closes at 7 pm.”
Al Husseini in Church of holy sepulcher

Al Husseini & Wajeeh Nuseibeh (credit: Sarah Toth Stub)

While Al Husseini’s family holds the key, the Nuseibeh family is charged with the physical work of opening and closing the church’s door, a duty they trace back to 637 when the caliph Omar first brought Islam to Jerusalem. Wajeeh Nuseibeh, 67, explained, “Our family first arrived to Jerusalem with Omar, and since then has been entrusted to protect the church from vandals.” However, Âl Huesseini contends that this is not true. He states, “This is not true what [Nuseibeh] says,” adding that shortly after his family received the keys from Saladin in 1187, they asked the Nuseibeh family to open and close the door, which involves climbing a ladder to reach the lock, while Al Husseini’s family remained the holder of the key. So there seems to be two different stories about the key!

The article continues about the historic disagreements and feuding that has taken place within the church among the denominations:

“Occasionally, these disagreements even threatened to spark conflict between world powers. In 1853, Russia threatened to invade Turkey if its Ottoman government, which also controlled Jerusalem, granted France’s request to give part of the Greek Orthodox area of the church to the Roman Catholics. This caused the Ottoman sultan Abdulmecid I to issue the decree saying that there would be no more transferring of property and rights inside the church. In addition to surviving the whims of Jerusalem’s governing powers, including hundreds of years when the caliphate charged pilgrims large sums of money to enter, the church has also been torn by inner conflict. Throughout history there have been clashes – sometimes violent – between various denominations over control of certain areas of the church, and the local powers, especially during Ottoman times, were often involved in redistributing rights and territories inside the building.”

tomb of Christ inside holy sepulcher church

The tomb of Christ within the church

A most recent brawl took place in 2008 between the Greek Orthodox and Armenian clergy over the route of the procession. For this reason, Al Husseini says, It’s no simple task to keep the peace.”

For the full BBC article, go HERE.

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Israel – A South African Perspective

South Africans at western wall

A picture taken at the Western Wall in Jerusalem of 5 South Africans who toured Israel.

I usually write/blog about things like historical geography, biblical archaeology, and the culture and context of the Bible. After all, the mission of Biblical Israel Ministries & Tours is all about making the Bible come alive for people all over the world.

In this blog I take exception to the rule of not talking about the political aspect involving Israel. But I found this recent excerpt particularly interesting. Written by the South African who had a distorted view of Israel prior to coming to the land, the article is all about his experiences and encounters within Israel and the so-called Palestinian Territories. His new perspectives gained on coming to Israel challenged his previous understanding that Israel was an Apartheid country like his homeland in S. Africa.

Here is the article written by Tshediso Mangope. He grew up under apartheid and believed that Israel had the same policies. But seeing the country for himself changed his perspective. I hope it also brings to you a counter perspective of what the United Nations, the anti-Israel world mediaand even some Christian sources continually and regrettably report.

While there are items within this article that I would personally challenge, I still feel the article is well-worth reading.

Here is the article that appeared in The Tower:

I’m a South African Activist Who Used to Fight Against Israel—Until I Went There

As a black South African and member of the African National Congress (ANC), I have often heard the accusation that Israel is an apartheid state—and therefore a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has to be based on a single state of Palestine between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. I recently made a trip to Israel and the West Bank in order to understand the issues and the prospects for resolving the conflict.

Traveling through the country encouraged me to reflect upon the suggestions by some sections of the Palestine solidarity movement—particularly those advocating for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel—that it is possible to establish one country between Israel and Palestine based on a “one-state” solution, like the one we established here in South Africa. Though supporters of this solution claim it is democratic, the rejection of a Jewish state is in fact a modern way of institutionalizing anti-Semitic posturing.

First and foremost, my visit to the region confirmed for me that there is no meaningful comparison between the State of Israel and the former apartheid regime in South Africa.

Apartheid museum

The entrance to the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. Photo: Ben Sutherland / flickr

I grew up under apartheid. I saw my parents being humiliated under apartheid. The scars of apartheid still live with us to this day and are strongly embedded in the psychology of my people. Therefore, in considering what a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict involves, I reject both the analysis that Israel practices apartheid and the demand that Israel should be dismantled and replaced with a single state of Palestine.

It appears that those who compare the State of Israel to apartheid South Africa do not understand the fundamentals of apartheid, nor have they experienced it. Let me explain.

I grew up during an era in South Africa when there was structured, state-imposed control of black lives. The apartheid regime created conditions that were exclusive to black people. Colonialism and apartheid had deliberately made poverty, bad education, landlessness, and cheap labor part of what it meant to be black. Under apartheid, our legal status was that of an inferior people.

South Africa was divided into two distinct worlds: one white and wealthy, the other black and poor. The mines, factories, and farms all depended on black workers forced into wage labor through government legislation. Accordingly, white-owned businesses did not hesitate to support a racist government that denied blacks the vote, because they accumulated huge profits and paid their workers artificially low wages.

Blacks lived in townships and slums, and whites lived in comfortable suburbs. Blacks earned subsistence wages and whites were their masters. The black maid took care of the master’s children in the suburbs, but only saw her own children once or twice a year. The black security worker guarded the rich white areas for white comfort, but had to travel back to violent townships after each shift. This was apartheid and everything it represented.

I recall witnessing the humiliation of my parents and watching the persecution of our political leaders on the news. It became hard for me to continue having conversations without actually doing something. So I joined the liberation movement, the ANC, to end the humiliation of our parents and the suffering of black children.

I was elected chairperson of the Young Communist League, the youth wing of the influential South African Communist Party. Upon entering law school at the University of Witwatersrand, I was elected to the South African Students Congress, and as branch chairperson of the ANC Youth League.

During this time, we called for a radical economic program of land expropriation and reparations, as well as the nationalization of mineral resources in order to expand the economy and undo the apartheid legacy. It was also at this point that I joined the BDS movement with similar enthusiasm.

However, after actually visiting Israel, my views on BDS have changed drastically. I am no longer involved in the BDS movement and don’t believe it to be a legitimate cause.

For me, learning about the history of the region and trying to separate the truth from lies was a life-altering moment.

First, studying the history was crucial in terms of fully grasping the truth of the situation. I learned that Jewish people are indeed indigenous to the land from which they were forcibly removed. Following this expulsion from their homeland, Jews suffered the indignity of being the skunk of the world.

The oppression and mass murder of Jewish people did not only take place in Nazi Germany, but in many parts of the world, wherever Jews sought to live among other nationalities. From the time of the Seleucid Empire, when all cultural and religious practices of Jewish people were banned by law without cause; to the persecution at the hands of Christians, who were taught by the Church that Jews were collectively responsible for the murder of Jesus; and from the massacres of more than four thousand Jews in Granada during the tenth century; to the mass murder of about six thousand Jews in Morocco around the same time, the suffering of Jewish people in many parts of the world is recorded fact. It is important to reflect on this history in order to understand the origin of this conflict.

Not surprisingly, fervent critiques of Israel erase this history and focus all energies upon the conflict immediately before and after the declaration of a Jewish state in 1948. Those who butcher the history of Israel in this manner are themselves guilty of causing and perpetuating conflict. They deliberately do this to conceal the truth, which to them is an inconvenience.

However, this is not too difficult for me to grasp as a black man, whose painful past is always used as a footnote by others. Don’t get me wrong, there are many things that, in my view, Israel should have handled differently, but it is grotesque naiveté to reduce Israel to an apartheid state. The insistence of the Arab world on denying Jewish people, the indigenous people of Israel, the right to sovereign existence is a main reason this conflict has lasted for so long.

The argument by BDS supporters that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be solved with a one-state solution, following the South African model of democracy, is false and dangerous. This assessment is heavily supported by my experiences in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, as well as my experiences as a black South African who experienced apartheid.

Let’s start with the lessons we learned from the peaceful transition into a democratic, single state in South Africa following the Convention for a Democratic South Africa negotiations.

First of all, Israel’s struggles are not the same as South Africa’s. Apartheid in South Africa was designed by white settlers who had moved from the Netherlands and Britain to conquer African land and turn the indigenous people into virtual slaves.

However, Israel is not a settler state. The Jewish people are indigenous to Israel, including the contested West Bank and the holy city of Jerusalem. These are descendants of Jewish refugees who were displaced centuries ago and they are back to exercise their inalienable right to self-determination. There is no self-respecting, sober intellectual who will argue that returning to your ancestral homeland from whence you were displaced makes you a settler.

Secondly, the oppressed black people in South Africa were the overwhelming majority and could, therefore, still mobilize themselves even after suffering multiple defeats. We could also rely on the support of other neighboring African countries, which had gained independence before us and helped us to the democratic victory of 1994.

Jewish people, on the other hand, are a religious and cultural minority in the middle of the Arab world. All neighboring countries have fought against the state of Israel in one way or another since 1948. Each of these countries has at some point vowed to wipe Israel off the map.

Thirdly, the oppressed black majority of South Africa made it expressly clear that the content of our struggle was not to annihilate the white minority, who designed and were profiting from apartheid. The history of all black struggles in South Africa is the striving for peace and reconciliation. From the beginning of the twentieth century, all petitions and representations we made to Britain were rooted in the best traditions of peace and cooperation. We refused to kill white people, particularly women and children, who are the most vulnerable in society. We even declared in 1955, when the machinery of apartheid was at its most repressive, that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.”

In South Africa, the ANC’s armed wing, the Umkhonto we Sizwe, understood that the conventional rules of war prohibited the attack and killing of innocent civilians. Any transgression, intentional or otherwise, was punishable in the Umkhonto we Sizwe camps to prevent a recurrence. We sent a message to the world that, as blacks, we were fighting against an unjust system and that we were not engaged in a terrorist enterprise.

However, the situation is different in Israel. Despite the fact that Jewish people have a legitimate claim to Jewish land, most Palestinians refuse to recognize Israel’s right to exist. They have essentially supported the call for the genocide of Jewish people—and, indeed, a single state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River could only be achieved by killing and expelling the majority of Jews currently living there.

It is quite apparent that the conflict has escalated to a point where peaceful coexistence within one border is impossible. The younger generation in Gaza and the West Bank, many of them influenced by the Islamist Hamas movement, are angrier and more determined to wipe Israel off the map, as urged by Hamas.

During my visit to the Palestinian Authority, I made two important observations that further underline the fact that Israelis and Palestinians cannot live harmoniously in a single state.

The first concerns a young female entrepreneur, in her mid-twenties, who, by her own admission, has been working with Israeli companies to grow her businesses. Although she supported cooperation with Israeli businesses in order to boost the local economy, which is frowned upon by most of her people, she told us that she too was not prepared to live with Jews in one state.

When asked if Palestinians would be willing to allow Jewish people already living in the West Bank to have citizenship, she responded, “They (Jews) would have to accept that they will be treated like second-class citizens.”

Out of shock, our Palestinian tour guide, who until now was sitting and listening to her presentation, stood up to make a point. He objected that this viewpoint was against their concessions in the 1995 Oslo accords, to which she responded, “It was foolhardy of you to make such concessions when we are treated like this.”

The second concerned two young Palestinian boys, aged 14 and 16, who had been shot by Israeli soldiers a week earlier after they stabbed two young Jewish women to death, one of them seven months pregnant. Entering Ramallah, we were welcomed by huge posters of these young boys. And what was more horrifying was that those boys were celebrated as martyrs.

The suggestion that it is possible to establish one country, based on a one-state solution, is just not possible. Expecting people with a bitter history of persecution, like the Jewish people, to abandon the idea of a Jewish state, the only state that has guaranteed them freedom and security, is not only unreasonable, but also unfair.

Tshediso Mangope

Tshediso Mangope

The only true and possible solution to this conflict is a two-state solution. A two-state solution is important, not only to ease tensions between the two sides, but also to ensure that the Jewish state is protected. The only way to protect Jewish people from all the hardships they have suffered the world over is to defend their inalienable right to self-determination.

***

This article is excerpted from “New Perspectives on Israel and Palestine,” a pamphlet published by Africans for Peace and available here.

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The Church of Nativity in Bethlehem

Bethlehem and church of nativity

Bethlehem the the Church of Nativity at night

The Church of Nativity in Bethlehem is one of the two oldest churches in Israel. The church goes back to the 4th century AD, specifically around 325 AD. Along with the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, the Church of Nativity was commissioned and built by Helena, the mother of Emperor Constantine. While this church that preserves the traditional place of Christ’s birth is currently undergoing major renovations these last few years, the building still symbolizes the hope and joy of Jesus’ birth. As told in Luke 2, the birth narrative of Jesus is read all over the world. Today the church is controlled by both Greek Orthodox and Armenians, with the Catholic Church having their own sanctuary. For the last few years the church has been going through major renovations.

Church of Nativity

The Church of Nativity inside. The lower mosaic floors date to the 4th century AD

Christmas in Bethlehem is actually a special time. I remember when I was a student in Jerusalem (in 1981-82), a few of us walked from Jerusalem to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. Our destination was the Church of Nativity and later the traditional Shepherds’ Fields. Following the midnight festivities at Manger Square, our plan was to sleep in the nearby fields. While the first heavy rains of the year prevented us from doing this, it as still a special time (we ended up sleeping with friends in Bethlehem).

On every tour we visit the Shepherds’ Fields. Here in a small cave we sing Christmas carols and read from Luke 2. It is a special time to celebrate that “just at the right time, God sent His Son (Galatians 4:4).” In God’s perfect timing, Jesus stepped into our history to become our salvation!

Church of nativity birth place of Jesus

The “traditional” place (below the front of the church) where Jesus was born

Today, our Palestinian brothers and sisters in Christ who live in Bethlehem (as well Christians who live in the adjacent Arab towns of Beit Sahor and Beit Jala) celebrate Jesus’ birth here. Others from all over the world and from many denominations come for this special night. What brings unity at Christmas is our common faith in Jesus, God’s Son born here 2,000 years

Does the Church of Nativity preserve the very place where Jesus was born? We can’t be for certain, but it also doesn’t need to be.  Why? Because we worship the Person and not the place. We worship Jesus who was born humbly in a small town call Bethlehem. He was born to bring God’s salvation for us!

It is our hope and prayer that God provides you the opportunity to travel with us to Israel, the land of the Bible! You will visit and experience Bethlehem firsthand! You will blend your voice with others as we sing and proclaim Jesus as God’s Son and as our Redeemer! Your life will never be the same!

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The Temple Mount & Amazing Flyover

Temple Mount

The Temple Mount of Jerusalem

From a biblical, historical, and even contemporary – political point of view, the Temple Mount is the focal point in all of Jerusalem! The Temple Mount represents the historical location of Mt. Moriah (Abraham & Isaac, Genesis 22, see also 2 Chr. 3) as well as the specific location for the 1st and 2nd Temples (built by Solomon and King Herod, respectively). But more specifically, the Temple Mount represents the very place where God made Himself known! It was where the Shekinah glory of God was experienced! It was where sacrifices were made to God. It was where the Ark of the Covenant resided for 100s of years during the days of the 1st Temple. It was where Jesus (and later the Apostles) spent so much time teaching about the malchut shamyim (“kingdom of heaven”) within the courts of the 2nd Temple.

Temple Mount

The Temple Mount (illustrated by Getty Image)

Today the Muslim Dome of the Rock (completed in 691 AD) stands where the Jewish 1st and 2nd Temples once stood. It’s the “traditional” place where Mohammed supposedly ascended to heaven during his “night flight.’ By the way just as a matter of “fact,” Jerusalem is not even mentioned in the Koran once! And the “tradition” of Mohammed taking his “night flight” from Mecca to some mosque in Jerusalem (that incidentally didn’t even exist yet) didn’t develop until well after the Dome was built. Nevertheless, even though Herod’s Temple stood twice as high in the days of Jesus, the Dome is an impressive building. I’ve been in it a number of times in the 1980s. It has now been “off-limits” to non-Muslims since 2000.

The Temple Mount is so large that it can hold about 11 football fields side by side. This expanded platform is attributed to none other than King Herod the Great. It was in 20 BC that this Temple project began. The Temple would not be complete until long after Herod’s death in 4 BC. (see John 2:20… it took at 46 years to build, with Josephus mentioning that the final details of the Temple were not completed until decades later). The Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

Dome of the Rock and Temple Mount

The Dome of the Rock where the 1st and 2nd Jewish Temples once stood

To visit the Temple Mount today is actually a bit disappointing. This is primarily because of the political tension that exists between Palestinians and Israelis. For the Jew, the Temple Mount represents the most holy place in all of Judaism. For the Palestinian Muslims, while their “tradition” venerates the place as significant in Islamic history for the reason I stated above, it is a place where a political statement can be maintained. In fact, UNESCO regrettably just voted last month to no longer call it “Temple Mount” but rather “The Al Asca,” using the name of the mosque built about 15 years after the Dome of the Rock was built. Specifically, the Al Asca Mosque was built in 705 AD, although the present silver-dome structure dates to 1035 AD. The UN’s anti-Semitic intention is to divorce any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount. To be honest, this is quite sad and disturbing!

But indeed the Temple Mount is an important place in Jewish history. In fact, the folks at the Temple Institute in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City have planned and prepared all the elements for the building of the 3rd Temple on the Temple Mount. How this is all going to work with the presence of both the Dome of the Rock and the Al Asca Mosque on the Temple Mount currently is a topic for another blog.:) Sure makes for interesting political and theological dialogue though!

So enjoy this “flyover” produced by our friends at SourceFlix of the beautiful Temple Mount in the holy city of Jerusalem!

Temple Mount Flyover from SourceFlix.com on Vimeo.

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Whiter Than Snow

snow in jerusalem

A view of the Old City and Temple Mount of Jerusalem from the Mt. of Olives

This weekend it snowed here in Pittsburgh, PA! Although since the calendar says “November” and I should expect the white stuff to fall eventually, after a very mild fall the abrupt change in weather is difficult to take.

It snows in Israel. Some people don’t know this. It actually snows so much up on the northern border that there is a ski resort on the slopes of Mt. Hermon. You say, ‘No way!’  Actually, for 6-8 weeks a year (depending on the snow amount), Israelis enjoy skiing on the highest mountain in the country. The top elevation on the Israeli side of the mountain is 7,200 feet! On summer tours I lead, we ride the chair-lift up to the top and then walk back down on the hiking trail!

It also snows a few times a year in Jerusalem. It may be only a few times. However, since Jerusalem is around 2,800 feet above sea level, a wet snow often falls each year.

White as snow Isaiah 1:18

Isaiah 1:18

It reminds me of what the prophet Isaiah once said, “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool (Isaiah 1:18).” I really like what Mary Fairchild said about sin and God’s forgiveness, “Before we accepted Jesus Christ as Savior, sin defiled us with the blood-red blot of death. But the active ingredients in God’s wonderful forgiveness are better than extra strength strain removers—they are powerful enough to erase the darkest filth you can wallow in. Poured over your sin, Christ’s cleansing, pardoning fountain of forgiveness washes us whiter than snow (Christianity Today).”

So depending where you live, there’s a good chance you’ll see snow this winter. Even Jerusalem may get some! When it does snow, celebrate God’s grace and forgiveness! Because of God’s grace, our sins can be whiter than snow!

Whiter Than Snow from SourceFlix.com on Vimeo.

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Sweet Home Jerusalem

Hasidic Jew Menachem Herman playing guitar

Hasidic Jew Menachem Herman

There are just some old “rock and roll” tunes that seem to last forever. One of them is the song called Sweet Home Alabama. The three main chords and the beat of the song are not only recognizable, but they are catchy.

So when an ultra-Orthodox / Hasidic Jew named Menachem Herman took this familiar tune and put his different words to it out of a love for Jerusalem, a brand new song was created. The lyrics were actually written by Rabbi Lazer Brody and Steven Gasner.

In the words of Rabbi Brody, “Menachem himself is a music world maverick – rebellious, ideological, passionate and determined. Not easy to pigeonhole. He’s a devoted Jew, a noble role model and an awesome musician with a gift to stir the very soul of any audience. Having performed with top artists globally, he combines his experience and magic on stage and always delivers a stirring and moving performance. Reaching deep for a soulful expression in a troubled world, Menachem’s music, an authentic mix of old and new school, is big on classic rock drama and power, whilst still making room for blues and ethnic styles to shine through. Sweet Home Jerusalem combines concise values and deceptively understated lyrical insight.

Yes, the tune seems a bit “out of place” within Orthodox Judaism, but I have to admit, Mr. Herman captured his love for the eternal capital of Israel very well!

Lynyrd Skynyrd … eat your heart out! 🙂

While this song has been around for a few years now, please enjoy the song:

 

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