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A Purim Message For the American Church

The Jewish world will celebrate Purim this month and remember the heroism of a young Jewish woman who saved the Jews of ancient Persia from annihilation almost 2,500 years ago.Most people are familiar with the biblical story of Esther and how she risked her life to plead with the king on behalf of her people who were being targeted for annihilation by the evil Haman.

The book of Esther does not explain the true significance of this story, and we often read it as though it is about a local subgroup of Jews: the Jews of Persia. However, the Persian Empire was so large that Haman’s attempt to destroy Persian Jews was an existential threat to the entire Jewish population at the time.

If Haman had succeeded with his evil plan, the Jews would have ceased to exist. And 500 years later there would have been no Jewish Joseph and Mary in Nazareth to have birthed the Messiah.

God knew this and that all of His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were at risk. His plan of world redemption rested on this people to whom He had bound Himself in covenant, revealed His holiness and righteousness, and given the law, the prophets, and the promises. They were the ones He had taught about the consequences of sin and the need for atonement. And through them He was going to bring about the Messiah and His atoning death on behalf of the world.

Everything was on the line. We do not know how much of that Esther understood. But her uncle Mordecai knew she had to act and encouraged her in her calling. As a result, Esther is the premier example of someone lobbying her government on behalf of her people.

Herein lies the lesson for the American church today: we must be willing to be like Esther and Mordecai, who remained uncorrupted by the politics and culture that surrounded them yet found the courage to selflessly take a stand in the place where God had called them—the halls of government.

This is not the time to retreat in anger, disillusionment, or intimidation from the powers set against us. If we shrink back into apathy and political correctness, the American church will lose its voice and the country will descend into an abyss of immorality.

Yes, we should pray and use times of introspection to keep our ways right before the Lord. Esther herself pulled back for a time of fasting and prayer. But then the time came to step forward to lobby against the evil schemes of Haman and secure the future of her people.

Our future rests on our own shoulders. And as Mordecai would say, we were born for such a time as this. May we be as courageous and pure as Esther.

I Am the God Who Heals

When the Israelites escaped Pharaoh’s armies and began their journey through the wilderness, God began to reveal to them who He was—the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who had delivered them from slavery. The very first revelation found in Exodus 15:26 is that He was Jehovah-Rapha, the “God who heals.” The next wilderness lesson was that He was also their provider.

We serve a mighty God who cares about His people and their needs, but often the trials and tribulations of life distract us and cause us to forget who He is and all that He has done for us. He knows this and understands—and His remedy is remembrance. As we review our lives and the ways God has blessed, provided for, and guided us through difficulties or healed sicknesses, we are encouraged, and our faith is increased to trust Him yet again.

Because of the importance of remembering, God designed many of the feasts and observances in such a way that required the Israelites to recall what He had done for them and their forefathers. The Feast of Tabernacles, for example, required the Israelites to dwell in temporary booths for one week to remember how God had provided for their forefathers in the wilderness.

As we prepare for the Feast of Tabernacles, I wanted to take the opportunity to remember what God has done for us at the ICEJ over the last few years. We have experienced miraculous healings, and we have seen the power of prayer at work. As I share these testimonies, I hope that you, too, will be encouraged to turn to the Lord. He is the God who heals and provides.

Through the Fire Unscathed

It was one year ago that the Lord spoke to me out of Isaiah 43:2–3:

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned,
Nor shall the flame scorch you.
For I am the Lord your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

As I read the words, they resounded deep in my heart, and I knew the Lord was speaking to me. The next morning when the doctor phoned with alarming test results, I immediately had peace. The Lord had known this was coming, and He had not only warned me, but He promised He would go through it with me, and I would come out unscathed. That is truly what happened. Looking back now, it is as if it never even happened. I came out unscathed just as He promised.

If we really believe God, then troubles should not be crises of faith but opportunities to run into His loving arms and receive from Him all that we need. I ran to Him—the God who heals—and experienced His deliverance.

Saved to Serve

At the beginning of this year, the former Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem and ongoing International Board Member Malcolm Hedding attended strategic planning meetings of the ministry in Jerusalem. On the final night, being quite tired from international travel and wall-to-wall meetings, Malcolm went to bed early.

During the night, he was awakened by an excruciating pain that had erupted, without previous symptoms, in his abdomen. At first, he thought it was possibly food poisoning, but when it became more aggressive and painful, he knew that something serious was wrong, and so he called his daughter Charmaine, who lives in Ramat Aviv. She, driving like Jehu did his chariot, rushed over to pick him up and get him to a hospital.

Once in the hospital, he was diagnosed with a serious infection of three organs: the pancreas, liver, and gall bladder. He was rapidly dehydrating, and his gall bladder was diseased beyond recovery. A team of five doctors told him that he had about five hours to live and that he needed urgent life-saving surgery.

Dr. Jürgen Bühler, the ICEJ president, put out a global prayer alert for Malcolm. Malcolm’s wife, Cheryl, flew out to Israel to be with him, and he was rapidly prepared for surgery. After a four-hour surgical procedure, Malcolm was placed in an intensive care ward—and all the while the people of God, all over the world, were praying for him. Intercessors, burdened by the Holy Spirit, prayed for him throughout the day and night.

Malcolm made it through and, while he still had to undergo three more surgical procedures, there was no doubt that Jesus had intervened and saved his life, and this also because of the faithful prayers of the people of God everywhere. Most certainly, Malcolm was saved to continue serving the kingdom of God and the purpose that God has for Israel. Prayer is powerful and is a tool to bring about a miraculous turn of events.

The Miracle Man

The ICEJ UK Director, Rev. David Elms, was preparing to travel to Israel for the 2016 ICEJ Feast of Tabernacles celebration when he experienced an excruciating pain in his kidneys. He collapsed on the floor and was then taken to Liverpool hospital, slipping in and out of consciousness. The specialist told his wife it was an aortic abdominal aneurysm and told her to gather the family to say goodbye as there was little chance of David coming through the operation.

If the aneurysm had happened 24 hours later, David would have been on the plane to Israel; there would have been nothing anyone could have done to save him. But God has a providential plan and purpose for each person’s life.

On opening night of the Feast at Ein Gedi, the main speaker addressed the ICEJ leadership and said he had a word from the Lord that someone closely linked to the ICEJ ministry was ill, and the whole assembly should pray for him. So thousands gathered in prayer. He went on to say that in a few hours, the man’s kidneys would be healed. Back home a few hours later, the surgeon approached David’s wife and said there was no damage to the kidneys; the doctors were now hopeful he would make a full recovery.

David was soon well and back to his work with the ICEJ. His doctor told him, “We call you the miracle man. Eighty-five percent of people who suffer from these aneurysms die, and of the remaining 15 percent, many are left with various handicaps.” David said, “I am not a miracle man, but I follow and serve a miracle-working God who answers the prayers of His people.”

Jesus, Get Me out of Here

Early one morning in November 2016, ICEJ India Director Pastor Dany woke up at home in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh, to pray and to work on his computer. When he switched on his computer, it sparked an explosion of leaking gas. The room erupted in flames, and the building started to collapse.

Pastor Dany cried out to the Lord with one single prayer: “Jesus, help me get out of here!” Protecting his face with his arms, he somehow stumbled through the raging fire, over rubble, and into the street where many neighbors had gathered after hearing the explosion and helped get him to the hospital.

For three days, Pastor Dany laid in bed in excruciating pain, his arms and legs covered with bandages, his face badly burned by the flames. Thankfully his family was unharmed, but he thought his life was over. He feared he would never be able to move his arms again, continue his ministry, or look after his family. He felt completely crushed.

Then something miraculous and supernatural happened. Pastor Dany had a vision of a man asking, “Why are you crying? Why are you in pain?” With bewilderment, Pastor Dany answered, “I cannot move my arms. I cannot even move my fingers. Isn’t it obvious? My whole life is over.” Then Pastor Dany asked, “Who are you?” The man in the vision replied, “I know who you are. I have met you in Jerusalem. Now start moving your fingers.” He moved his fingers and then his arms and then, to the amazement of the hospital staff, he got out of bed.

At the advice of an Israeli doctor, Pastor Dany requested his bandages be peeled off to facilitate the healing even though it was excruciatingly painful. The doctors had advised it would take two to three months before he would be ready to leave the hospital. But lo and behold, Pastor Dany walked out of the hospital on the ninth day and preached at his local church the very next day. No one could believe it! Jesus had delivered him!

Jürgen, You Are Here!

In December 2015, ICEJ President Dr. Jürgen Bühler was diagnosed with advanced kidney cancer that was growing out from the kidney into the main vein, winding “like a snake” toward his heart. As advanced as medicine is in Israel, there were no Israeli doctors with the experience to operate on such a rare and severe case. The serious expression on the doctor’s face showed he did not have much hope for Jürgen.

People began praying for Jürgen around the clock and from across Israel and all around the world. The Holy Spirit gave him and his family peace that surpassed their understanding, which was in total contradiction to their circumstances. Upon arrival in Germany for the surgery, they requested one final ultrasound—still believing for a miracle. The results, however, were sobering. “Much of your abdomen is unrecognizable,” said the doctor. “Everything is full of cancer.”

The surgery took much longer than planned due to complications. The specialist said it was one of the most complex operations he had ever done, requiring 25 units of blood just to get Jürgen through it. Doctors did not know if he would survive and put him in an induced coma, which was supposed to last for several days. To everyone’s surprise, he woke up the very next morning—still in extremely serious condition. On the second day, however, a remarkable restoration started to take place. Ten days after the operation, he left the hospital and, just two weeks later, Jürgen and his family were on the airplane back to Israel.

When he went to see his doctor in Jerusalem, the doctor’s mouth dropped open followed by a big smile a few seconds later. “Jürgen, you are here!” he shouted. He had obviously not expected Jürgen to survive long enough to see him again. But God had other plans and had intervened on his behalf.

In all these situations, people of faith handled trouble by going to the Lord in prayer. We thank God for all of the wonderful doctors and the medical advances that were used in each of these stories. But even doctors know their work can only go so far. That is when we turn to the God who heals.

We serve a great God. His mercy is new every morning, and great is His faithfulness to fulfill His Word. If you need prayer, feel free to let us know at the ICEJ USA, and we will stand with you in faith.

—by Susan Michael, ICEJ USA Director, creator of Israel Answers, and the American Christian Leaders for Israel (ACLI) network 

How God Saved the Jewish People

Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, placed his reputation and political career on the line to warn the U.S. Congress of the dangers of a nuclear Iran. His historic speech on March 3rd just happened to take place one day before the start of the Jewish holiday of Purim. The meaning of this was clear to many Christians and Jews, that history had come full circle, and Netanyahu stood as an Esther, pleading with the leaders of the United States to stop this evil Haman, in ancient Persia, and his plans to annihilate Israel.

The Jewish people have at various times faced threats so serious they were considered “existential”—a threat to their very existence. For example, the Jews of Europe are now questioning their future on the continent due to rising anti-Semitism, and many scholars are proclaiming there is no future for Jews there anymore.

They are now joining a long list of persecuted Jewish communities who, over the last 150 years, have been forced to abandon centuries of historic ties in other lands, and return to their ancient homeland where they could at least defend themselves and secure their own future. As a result, the largest Jewish community in the world now resides in Israel, but faces a very serious existential threat of its own from Iran.

Modern day Hamans in Iran—ancient Persia-- are devising an evil plot to annihilate Israel while building the nuclear and conventional weapons capable of doing so. One cannot help but see the eerie parallels between this current situation and the story in the book of Esther, in which the largest Jewish community of her time was also under a threat of annihilation.

As Jews around the world are reading the book of Esther this month, and celebrating the miraculous Purim story, it is a good time to apply some key elements of the story to our day.

The Seriousness of the Plot

There have been a number of Hamans throughout history who have threatened and even attempted the annihilation of the Jewish people. One would have to concede that Adolf Hitler was a perfect example of a modern Haman.

The seriousness of the threat in the book of Esther was amplified by the fact that the bulk of the Jews of that day lived in the Persian Empire. If Haman had succeeded in killing the Jews of Persia, it would have ended the existence of the Jewish people altogether. There would have been no one to later return and rebuild Jerusalem such as we read about in the book of Nehemiah.

There would have been no Jewish people left to birth the Messiah, Jesus, who came in fulfillment of God’s promises to their fathers. God’s plan would have failed and it would have been all over. For this reason, we should all be celebrating the miraculous deliverance of the Jews of Persia along with our Jewish friends during Purim this month.
The fact that today’s Haman is found in the very same geographic location as the first one – ancient Persia—does give one pause. History seems to have come full circle and that in itself should have our full attention.

Esther

God is never mentioned in the book of Esther, yet His hand can be seen busy at work in many elements of the story. Most notably is the way He used the courageous Jewish girl, Hadassah, who became Queen Esther. She risked her life to go before the King and uncover the plot of Haman, a man who was so powerful the people of Persia had to bow down to him and pay homage. She knew that if her plan failed, it would not only mean her death, but that of her people.

However, the King accepted her request for an audience, and granted her anything she asked. Esther was then faced with a grave dilemma: how to stop the execution of Haman’s plan. Haman had issued the royal decree, sealed with the King’s signet ring, that in all provinces of the Persian Empire, from India to Ethiopia, the Jews were to be killed on a specific day. The King’s royal decree was law and could not be rescinded.

The Right of Self Defense

There was no changing the fact that the Jewish people were going to be attacked, so a new royal decree was issued giving them the right of self-defense. And that is how the Jewish people survived the plan of Haman. They fought back.

Today, the people of Israel have also been granted the right of self-defense when they established a state and were accepted into the United Nations in 1948. While Israel is pleading with the United States, and indeed the international community, to place enough pressure on Iran to make them give up their evil plan, it increasingly seems as if, once again, the Jewish people’s only recourse will be that of self-defense.

Calling all Mordecais

Esther was not the only heroin of the story; in fact, Mordecai was just as essential to God’s plan. It was Mordecai, a good loyal citizen, who uncovered a plot against the King and saved the empire. He seemed to be a man of intelligence who had discernment and his “ear to the ground.”

He wisely counseled his niece, Hadassah, not to reveal her Jewishness in the competition to be Queen. And it was Mordecai who alerted Queen Esther to Haman’s plan and pleaded with her not to consider her own life, but that of her people. At the end of the story, Mordecai was elevated to Haman’s previous position and given authority to use the King’s seal. It was Mordecai who issued the royal decree granting the right of self-defense to the Jews of Persia.

The people of Israel desperately need Mordecais and Esthers today who have discernment, strategy and are willing to speak up. Since the United States is a democracy, all citizens can be Mordecais and Esthers by contacting their elected representatives to make their voices known.


Do you have a question about Israel? Visit us at IsraelAnswers.com and get it answered!


For more than thirty years, Susan Michael has pioneered the development of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem in the United States and around the world. She currently serves as the ministry’s USA Director and is a member of the ICEJ’s international Board of Directors.

This Generation's Battle

Exodus 17 tells how Amalekites, descendants of Esau’s grandson, attacked the children of Israel in the desert of Sinai during their exodus from Egypt. This unprovoked attack was especially serious and the Israelites battled all day, only achieving victory at nightfall.

In response to this demonstration of cruelty, the Lord told Moses that he would blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven. Moses later recounted: “the Lord will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” (Exodus 17:16). Amalek’s attack on the children of Israel was now a perpetual war between him and the God of Israel.

Amalek was not just a foe, but a genocidal one, so in Jewish tradition the Amalekites came to represent the archetypal enemy of the Jews present in generation after generation. It is interesting to note that some one thousand years later, in the book of Esther, the arch villain Haman was an Amalekite who led the plot to kill the Jews.

The Longest Hatred

This evil pursuit of the Jewish people has continued for millennia, which is why historian Robert Wistrich calls anti-Semitism "the longest hatred." Every time this genocidal hatred seems to be dying out it reinvents itself with a different look and a different name. But the goal is always the same: to rid the world of the Jewish people.

In the ancient world, classical anti-Semitism was a clash between pagan rulers, who demanded obedient homage, and their Jewish subjects, who would only worship and obey the God of Israel. The Jewish people could not bow down to earthly leaders, and were bound by the Sinaitic Law to certain behaviors and observances that set them apart and incurred the wrath of their rulers.

Religious anti-Semitism

After the rise of Christianity the problem did not go away. It is a travesty that anti-Semitism was then found in the heart of Christian Europe. Indeed, in the annals of those who persecuted and hated the Jewish people are professing Christians. Space does not permit a full treatment of this sad story, but centuries of state and church-backed denigration, persecution, forced conversions, and expulsions actually paved the way for the Holocaust.

Proof of this is found in the fact that Martin Luther’s anti-Semitic writings were published and distributed by the Nazis in order to justify their anti-Jewish laws and eventually their extermination program. Hitler admitted as much when he told two Catholic Bishops who questioned his policy that “he was only putting into effect what Christianity had preached and practiced for 2000 years.”

Racial anti-Semitism

The form of anti-Semitism found in Nazi ideology was not based on religion, however, but on racial theories about the superiority of the Aryan race. Whereas Christianity had sought the conversion of the Jews, and state leaders had sought their expulsion, the Nazis sought the “final solution to the Jewish question,” the murder of all Jews and their eradication from the human race.

The good news is that these older forms of anti-Semitism are socially unacceptable in the 21st century. Religious bigotry and racism are frowned upon and are antithetical to the prevailing ideologies of globalism and secularism.

Political anti-Semitism

The bad news is that Israel, a Jewish nation-state, is also antithetical to both globalism and secularism. Therefore, the modern form of anti-Semitism that has found a stronghold and large-scale acceptance today is political. It is against the Jewish state and is called anti-Zionism.

There is still religious anti-Semitism, but this time it is found throughout the Muslim world and is responsible for the genocidal rhetoric emanating from Iran. Muslim anti-Semitism, however, is tolerated by anti-Zionist Western leaders who blame it on Israeli policies.

Not all criticism of Israel can be considered anti-Semitic. However, criticism of Israel becomes anti-Semitic when it delegitimizes the state and questions its right to exist, when it uses anti-Jewish rhetoric and stereotypes or compares Israelis to Nazis, when it judges Israel by a different standard than for any other nation, and when it becomes an excuse to attack local Jewish individuals and institutions.

During the 2014 war in Gaza, a defensive war on Israel’s part to prevent further missile launches from Hamas, there were attacks on synagogues and Jewish citizens in France, refrains such as “Jews to the Gas” in Germany, the use of swastikas at anti-Israel demonstrations, and anti-Semitic caricatures in newspapers and social media.

While America is a safe-haven today for Jews fleeing Europe, low levels of anti-Semitism here should not be taken for granted. As American Christians, we should take every opportunity to stand in solidarity with the Jewish community, attending their Holocaust remembrance events, and teaching our children to recognize anti-Semitism and take a stand against it.

This generation’s battle is not so much with the Amalek of old, and its pagan, Christian or racial anti-Semitism, but with the Amalek of today—the rabid anti-Israel movement that demonizes the Jewish people and nation while excusing Muslim anti-Semitism.

This one is on our watch, and it is our responsibility to stand against it.


Susan M. Michael is US Director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.  Her writings can be found at www.icejusa.org/susans-blog” 


Celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles

For 35 years some 5,000-8,000 Christians have travelled from over 100 nations to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem. The biblical holiday, which lasts for seven days, commemorates God’s supernatural provision for the Israelites during their wilderness wanderings and celebrates God’s provision. Why do Christians come to Jerusalem to celebrate this Jewish feast?

 

 

 

The feast of Passover was the most familiar one that commemorated the Jewish people’s freedom from the bondage of slavery in Egypt and the deliverance of their firstborn from death through the blood of the lamb painted on their doorposts. Since Jesus’ sacrificial death for the sins of the world occurred during Passover, this is a Jewish feast which has a Christian fulfillment and broad general awareness within Christian circles.

The second feast is that of Shavuot or Pentecost. Shavuot means “weeks” in Hebrew. It is seven weeks or 50 days after the first day of Passover and was translated to “Pentecost” in Greek. It was during this festival some 2,000 years ago that God poured out the Holy Spirit upon the believers gathered in prayer. Many churches celebrate Pentecost Sunday, however with minimal understanding of the Jewish feast of Shavuot that the early believers were celebrating when the Holy Spirit fell.

A feast with future fulfillment
 

The third great feast is the Feast of Tabernacles, which is known even less by churches because it does not have a corresponding Christian event as its fulfillment. The problem is that the Feast of Tabernacles is a forward looking feast with a future fulfillment. It is the only one of the three feasts that will be celebrated during the Messianic era, and by the gentiles as well, according to Zechariah 14.

The Watsons and their colleagues felt that it was time for Christians to understand this third great feast and what it meant. So in 1980 the first international Christian Celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles took place in Jerusalem and was attended by some 1,000 Christians from a number of countries. It was at this Feast that the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ)was launched.

For 35 years the ICEJ’s celebration has annually drawn some 5,000-8,000 Christians and they have come from over 100 nations. This celebration is now expected to grow even larger thanks to a new, larger arena in Jerusalem that can accommodate thousands more. While this annual celebration is not a fulfillment of Zechariah’s prophecy, it is clearly an indication that the days of Zechariah are approaching.

 


Celebrating God’s provision



The word “Tabernacles” in Hebrew is Sukkoth, which means “booths” and refers to the temporary dwellings that the Jewish people lived in during the wilderness wanderings and are commanded to live in during this holiday. The biblical holiday lasts for seven days and has dual significance: commemorating God’s supernatural provision for the Israelites during their wilderness wanderings and celebrating the current year’s harvest—another sign of God’s provision. As a result, it is the one feast of the year when the Jewish people are commanded to rejoice! There is also rich symbolism in Feast traditions that indicate God’s beckoning of the nations.

 

Celebrating the Kingdom of God

 

 

It has been said that redemptive history has three segments. There is a Passover segment from Moses to Jesus. There is a Pentecost segment in which we are now living when the Spirit of God is being poured out and the harvest is being gathered from every nation of the world.

The final great segment of human history will be the Tabernacles segment. After the Messiah’s feet stand on the Mount of Olives, His visible kingdom will break in on the world. This will be the age of Tabernacles, and it will be an age of unparalleled joy over the largest harvest of souls the world has ever seen, their deliverance from the power of evil, and the arrival of the Kingdom of God on earth.

Christians now understand that the Feast of Tabernacles is an opportunity to celebrate the Kingdom which is in individual hearts now while looking forward to the joyous time spoken of in Revelation 21:3 when God will “tabernacle with men.”


Susan M. Michael is US Director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.  Her writings can be found at www.icejusa.org/susans-blog” 


The Rest of the Hanukkah Story

The story of Hanukkah takes place during the period in-between the Old and New Testaments, when Antiochus IV Epiphanes became the King of the Hellenistic Seleucid empire. While the Hellenization of the region, including Judea, already threatened the survival of the Jewish religion, Antiochus seemed obsessed with ensuring the demise of the Jewish faith and thereby, the future of the Jewish people.

He not only murdered the High Priest, Onias III, but he slaughtered 40,000 inhabitants of Jerusalem. All sacrifices, the service of the Temple, and the observance of the Sabbath and feast days were prohibited. The Temple was dedicated to Zeus, the Holy Scriptures were destroyed, and the Jews were forced to take part in heathen rites.

In his attempt to destroy every trace of the Jewish religion, the final assault was the slaughter of a pig on the sacrificial altar of the Temple, thereby desecrating it. The Maccabean family, from the priestly line of Aaron, led a revolt against this evil ruler and miraculously experienced victory after victory over the mighty Greek forces, until at last the Temple could be purified and its services restored.

As I noted in my article “What Jesus Understood About Hanukkah,” the revolt against the forces of Hellenization actually saved the Jewish people from extinction because they would have assimilated into the pagan culture around them. This preservation of Judaism and the rededication of the Temple helped set the stage for the birth of Jesus into a traditional orthodox Jewish home in Judea. It is no surprise that He went to the Temple for Hanukkah - the Feast of Dedication - in John 10. 

The End of Antiochus and His Empire

But wait, there is more to the story. The rededication of the Temple took place on the 25th day of Kislev, which was December 14, 164BC. Within weeks, if not days, the evil Antiochus IV Epiphanes died suddenly. The Greek historian Polybius said that Antiochus was on an expedition to the eastern part of the empire to rob another temple when he died of a sudden illness and “certain manifestations of divine displeasure.”

Polybius hints at the very real possibility that the King suffered judgment by God. Whether he understood it to be the God of the Jews we do not know. The non-canonical book of 2nd Maccabees claims that he did. But, his sudden death is just one example out of many of the demise of those who have come against the Jewish people. Upon the king’s death, the Seleucid kingdom began to weaken and fell into irreparable decline. 

The Israel Test

The Bible is clear that God will judge the nations over their treatment of the Jewish people. Both Old and New Testaments teach this, and the principal has been played out over and over throughout history.

The most obvious explanation is the Jewish people are very special to Him. He did not just choose them, but created them through Sarah who was past child-bearing years, and He takes their treatment by others very seriously.

More than this, God uses Israel to test the hearts of the nations, thereby exposing either their goodness, which leads to blessing, or their evil intent, which leads to judgement. Some have likened Israel to litmus paper that when dipped into water shows whether the water is acidic or alkaline. Israel exposes what is in the heart of people.

George Gilder, a venture-capitalist businessman, proposes in his book The Israel Test that Israel presents a moral and ethical challenge to the world and therefore has become the ultimate fault line. At the root of the Israel Test is the knowledge that Israel is contributing more to the human cause through its scientific, technological and financial advances than any other country in the world, except the US. He predicts that over the next two decades, Israel will grow into the dominant economy in the Middle East and one of the most productive economies in the world.

This is the test that Israel presents to the world: what is your attitude towards people who excel you in the creation of wealth or in other accomplishments? Do you aspire to their excellence, or do you seethe at it? Do you admire and celebrate exceptional achievement, or do you impugn it and seek to tear it down?

God is using Israel to test the hearts of the nations and their future will be determined by how they respond. Could it be that the same test is at operation within the Church?

In Romans 11, the Apostle Paul addresses the attitude of the Roman church towards the Jewish people. He warned the believers to make sure their attitude was humble and honoring of the Jewish people. He even cautioned them about possible judgment by God if their attitude was not right. A church that honors its Hebraic roots, as wild branches that are grafted into the olive tree, receives great strength and nourishment. To dishonor the very root that supports our faith brings spiritual decline and even death.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes failed the Israel Test and his kingdom is long gone. Others throughout history have also fallen short on the test and experienced decline and extinction. My prayer is that our nation and our churches pass the Israel Test, exhibiting good hearts, and experience the many blessings God has promised.


Susan M. Michael is US Director for the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.  Her writings can be found at www.icejusa.org/susans-blog” 

When Jesus Attended the Feast of Tabernacles

For centuries Christian churches had little appreciation for the biblical Feast of Tabernacles. They understood Passover was the foundation for Jesus’ atoning death on the cross, and they understood Pentecost, or the Feast of Weeks, was a Jewish feast on which the Holy Spirit was poured out on the early church. But, there was no Christian fulfillment of the Feast of Tabernacles for them to celebrate.

This is because the Feast of Tabernacles is a forward looking Feast with a yet future fulfillment. The founders of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem (ICEJ) understood this and how that the prophet Zechariah had foretold of a day when all the nations of the world would celebrate the fulfillment of this Feast. Therefore, they began an annual Christian celebration in Jerusalem in 1980. Some thirty-six years later churches all around the world now celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles in anticipation of its ultimate fulfillment when Jesus returns and the Kingdom of God is established in our midst.

Jesus also celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles and we read about that in John 7 – 9. While there, He used the special ceremonies taking place around Him to point the people to Himself as the ultimate fulfillment.

He Offered Living Waters

Each day of the seven-day Feast began with a water-drawing ritual which was a great time of rejoicing over God’s provision of water for the crops that year and of the Holy Spirit which would provide personal refreshment. A priest would take a golden pitcher and lead a musical procession to the pool of Siloam where he plunged the pitcher into the waters while reciting “Therefore, with joy you shall draw water from the wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12:3).

Jerusalem’s sole water supply was from this pool and the Gihon Spring that feeds it. Therefore, water was precious. Yet, the priest returned to the Temple with the golden pitcher of water and began to pour it out over the altar while reciting “Hosanna, I pray, O Lord… send now prosperity!” (Psalm 118:25). The pouring of the water symbolized the pouring out of the Holy Spirit and was followed by a great silence that descended on the sanctuary as the people reflected upon the Holy Spirit–the only true refreshment for their thirsty souls.

This ritual took place every day but on the seventh day it took on an intensity filled with excitement and anticipation. It was on that day that Jesus “stood and cried out, saying, ‘If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me, and drink’” (John 7:37). In this context it was clear to the people that He was inviting them to accept Him as the one who would give them the “living waters” of salvation (John 4:10).

He Proclaimed Eternal Light

Another fascinating ceremony associated with the Feast of Tabernacles involved lights. Each afternoon four huge menorahs illuminated the court of the Temple and the pious men would dance before the lamps with burning torches in their hands. It is said that the light from these menorahs was so bright it penetrated every courtyard in Jerusalem. This festivity would last all night until dawn.

The light of the menorahs had two meanings: the first was symbolizing the Glory of God that had filled the first Temple (I Kings 8:10-11). The second was anticipating the “Great Light” who would soon come and bring light to those who were spiritually dead and dwelling in darkness (Isaiah 9:2).

Perhaps it was during the light celebration, or when the lights were extinguished on the eighth day, that Jesus said for all to hear, “I am the light of the world; he who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life” (John 8:12). The crowd understood that Jesus was proclaiming that He is the Great Light who Isaiah said would come, and is God in the flesh–the Glory of the Temple (John 1:14).

He Affirmed Who He Was

The eighth day of the Feast of Tabernacles was called the “Last Good Day.” It was a Sabbath day, designed for rest and reflection on all that had been celebrated during the previous seven-day festival. On this day Jesus came to the Temple and healed a blind man by anointing his eyes with clay and then sending him to the pool of Siloam to wash (John 9:7).

With this miracle Jesus validated everything He had said and done during the Feast. By doing the impossible, He proved He was God in the flesh–the true dispenser of the Holy Spirit and the only source of light and life.


Susan M. Michael is US Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.
 

THE MOTHER OF US ALL

Hebrews 11 is the well-known New Testament Hall of Fame—or as some call it, Hall of Faith— because it lists the great heroes of the Old Testament who exhibited extraordinary faith. One such hero is Abraham.

We are familiar with Abraham’s story and the great faith he exhibited when he obeyed the voice of God and left his home, not knowing where he was going. He then lived in the land God promised to him by faith—as a pilgrim in temporary dwellings. His greatest act of faith was offering up his son Isaac, even though the Lord had told Abraham it would be through Isaac that his seed would continue. Abraham believed God would raise his son from the dead.

Often overlooked, however, is verse 11 of this chapter, which extolls Sarah’s great faith that bestowed on her the ability to conceive when she was past childbearing age. Indeed, she was already 65 years old when God made His initial promise to Abraham and was 90 by the time the child was born. She nevertheless knew that He who had made this promise to her was faithful and would keep it.

Not only did the apostle Paul call Abraham the “father of us all” who believe (Romans 4:16), but in Galatians 4:26 he implied that Sarah is “the mother of us all.” To understand how this can be, we must first understand the significance of the covenant God made with Abraham, and through him, his wife, Sarah.

The Pivotal Moment in the Biblical Story

The first 11 chapters of the book of Genesis set the stage for a pivotal moment that occurs in chapter 12. The backdrop is the detestable and hopeless condition of fallen mankind. But, in Genesis 12:1–3 a light is seen at the end of the tunnel. This is the moment when God spoke to Abraham and initiated His plan to redeem this fallen world.

The entire Bible hinges on that moment and, in fact, only makes sense once we grasp what God was announcing to Abraham. God told Abraham He would lead him to a land and he would become a great nation that would bless all of the families of the earth. The apostle Paul declared that the third verse of Genesis 12 which says, “In you all the families of the earth will be blessed,” was the first preaching of the gospel (Galatians 3:8). According to Paul, Genesis 12:3 refers to the great redemption that would be won for the world through the Christ, the Seed of Abraham, the Messiah of Israel.

But the plan hinged upon Abraham having a child—and his wife, Sarah, was barren. Though she was not named in the covenant, she was an integral part of it. She, too, would play a crucial role in the birthing of a nation that will bring about the great redemption of mankind and the blessing of all the nations. Her loving relationship with Abraham, which had caused her to give up everything and follow him to a land where they would live in tents as aliens, would produce a lineage that would change the world.

It All Depended on Sarah

And, so, she waited, for ten years. With each year that passed, Sarah must have felt more and more guilty. God had made such wonderful promises to her husband, but because she was barren, they were not coming to pass. She was the unnamed but implied partner in the covenant, and upon whom the covenant hinged—but by whom it was being blocked. Perhaps she felt like a complete failure.

Many a sermon has been preached about Abraham and Sarah’s lack of faith that caused them to devise the carnal plan of a surrogate mistress. However, the Bible never scolds them for losing faith; instead, they are memorialized in the Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith. They believed what God had promised would come to pass! Their error was concluding He would do it some other way than through Sarah, Abraham’s wife.

Their carnal minds probably reasoned God had never specifically said the child would come through Sarah. In fact, it was not until 13 years after Ishmael’s birth to Hagar that God explicitly stated the promised son would be through Sarah and would be named Isaac. At that point, Sarah was no longer an unrecognized party in the covenant. She had been called out by name. What should have been obvious from the start had finally been stated unequivocally: the child would come from Abraham’s wife.

Promise Fulfilled

Some 25 years after the promise was first given in Genesis 12, Sarah gave birth to Isaac at the age of 90. God’s plan all along was that Sarah would have her first and only son in her old age when it was humanly impossible. In this way, God would show His power, and there would be no doubt that this was His doing in fulfillment of His promise and His covenant.

Hence, from this point, the biblical record begins to tell the story of the nation God birthed through Abraham and Sarah, and through which He gave to the world the great redemptive products of the covenants, the law, the promises, and Christ Jesus the Messiah. Through Jesus’ atoning death the price was paid, and consequently, redemption has now been offered to all of the families of the earth.

Abraham and Sarah did not just birth a physical nation, but a family of believers. Through faith in Christ Jesus, we are Abraham’s spiritual seed and heirs to the promises; we have been grafted into the family tree of faithful followers. We, too, can call Abraham “father,” and Sarah, “our mother.”


Susan M. Michael is USA Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem. Her writings can be found at www.icejusa.org/susans-blog.

The Evil Pursuit of the Jewish People

The story of the Jewish people has no parallel in the history of mankind. It is a story of a small people, no more than 17 million at any time in history, with a biblical calling to represent a holy God in the midst of an evil and idolatrous world. They were required to reflect the holiness of their God by living a righteous lifestyle in observance of hundreds of moral and ritual laws. These practices made them visibly and spiritually different from those around them. It also made them an easy target.

The Jewish people were chosen to bless the world with God’s redemptive plan—and they would suffer greatly for it. The powers of evil would forever fight against God’s plan and would attempt to stop it by destroying the people called to bring it about. The God of Israel understood the difficult place this put His people in, and therefore guaranteed their survival. But the Jews would indeed suffer, and part of their unique story is the ongoing saga of an evil pursuit that defies all logic.

What Is Anti-Semitism?

The hatred of the Jewish people—anti-Semitism—is as unique in the human experience as the people it hates. It has been around almost as long as the Jewish people have existed. During ancient times when kingdoms and empires ruled the day, conformity and obedience was a requirement that often involved worship of the emperor or of his deities. The Jews were commanded by their God not to worship any other, so they were doomed to conflict.

Within this context, however, there were instances where the conflict grew into an animosity that could only be described as anti-Semitic. One such story is found in the book of Esther, where it is not the Persian king that requires obedience, but his close confidant, Haman, who was enraged by the fact that Mordecai the Jew would not bow down to him. His personal slight grew into a murderous hatred of all Jews and he hatched a plan to annihilate them.

Eventually, ancient empires gave way to the Christian era when so-called Christian kings, who were also heads of the state church, persecuted the Jews because of the church’s teachings against Judaism. Jews were accused of being “God killers” due to Jesus’ crucifixion and were considered enemies of the church. They were at times treated as outcasts, rounded up in ghettos, and even expelled from countries.

Along came the Enlightenment, and science trumped religion as the primary source of authority in the world. Scientific studies advanced racial theories that then became the backbone of Nazi ideology. Adolf Hitler believed the Jews to be an inferior race that needed to be eradicated.

These older forms of anti-Semitism are socially unacceptable in the twenty-first century. Religious bigotry and racism are frowned upon and are antithetical to the prevailing ideologies of globalism and secularism. However, so is Israel, a Jewish nation-state. Therefore, the modern form of anti-Semitism that has found a stronghold and large-scale acceptance today is political. It is against the Jewish state and is called anti-Zionism. Religious anti-Semitism does exist today, and it is Islamic; however, the West tends to view it through the political lens of the Arab-Israeli conflict and overlooks its inherently theological underpinnings.

This evil pursuit of the Jewish people has continued for millennia, which is why historian Robert Wistrich calls anti-Semitism “the longest hatred.” Every time it seems to be dying out it reinvents itself with a different look and a different name—like a mutating virus—but the goal is always the same: rid the world of the Jewish people.

British journalist Melanie Phillips said this about it: “It is a tremendous mistake to assume that anti-Semitism arises from any political activity or ideology. It is a pathology based on the wish to exterminate the Jewish people—a moral and spiritual sickness unique in human history, and which morphs and mutates across religious, secular, and political systems.”

Anti-Semitism Today

Anti-Semitism today has two faces: one is Islamic and the other political. Both demonize the Jewish people by perpetrating conspiracy theories and false accusations against Israel. The problem is that demonizing Israel is in fact a demonization of the Israeli people who become representative of all Jews. This is why a Jewish person walking the streets in France can be attacked because of Israeli military action against Hamas in Gaza.

To quote Melanie Phillips again, “Blaming Israel is a way of blaming the Jews for anti-Semitism. People do this not just out of their own bigotry, but because they cannot acknowledge the unique and uniquely evil nature of the phenomenon.”

Proof that anti-Semitism is alive and well is found in a 2013 study reporting the sad statistic that only 70 years after the Holocaust, one-third of Europe’s Jews were considering emigrating because of anti-Semitism. This year, forty percent of British Jews are considering leaving the UK because of a rise in anti-Semitism there.

A 2014 study found that 25 percent of the world’s population— 1.1 billion people—holds anti-Semitic views, even though 70 percent of them had never met a Jew. Thirty-five percent of them had never heard of the Holocaust, and of those who had, one-third of them thought it was either a myth or greatly exaggerated. The highest percentage of populations holding anti-Semitic views were found in the Middle East.

The anti-Semitism prevalent in the Middle East is spreading to forums in other parts of the world including American college campuses where Palestinian groups are mobilizing students to their cause using anti-Israel vitriol. Anti-Semitic incidences rose 57 percent in the United States last year, mainly in high schools and on college campuses where these groups are active.

Another frontier in the spread of anti-Semitism is the internet where hate-filled people spew a relentless stream of paranoia and lies inciting some to acts of violence. That is exactly what drove Robert Bowers to take a semi-automatic weapon into a synagogue in Pittsburgh to kill as many Jews as possible. The deadliest attack on the Jewish community in American history should serve as a wake-up call for all of us and cause us to ask, “What can I do?”

What Can Be Done

There is much that can and should be done. While this article cannot provide an exhaustive list, let’s concentrate on the most obvious things that most of us can do at the community level.

Reach out to your local Jewish community, or one that has suffered an anti-Semitic attack, and let them know how sorry you are and that you are praying for them. This can be done in a card to the Rabbi, or the Jewish Federation director in that city. Showing up at a local memorial service speaks louder than words. Do not come with an agenda or message other than “we are sorry.”

Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel once wrote: “What hurts the victim most is not the cruelty of the oppressor but the silence of the bystander.” We are often silent because we do not know what to say, but your silence is deafening at times of attack. Please voice your condolence.

If you come across ugly comments on the internet, call them out for being anti-Semitic so others who come across this will be alerted. The first step in opposing this evil is identifying it for what it is. Educate yourself how to combat the lies permeating the internet so that it becomes a place of pushing back against the hatred. Visit the ICEJUSA.org and IsraelAnswers.com websites for teachings and answers to frequently asked questions.

Help your church to be informed and educated about the history and the current expressions of anti-Semitism. The ICEJ provides informative seminars that do this from a biblical perspective, not only enlightening but also inspiring churches to take a stance on behalf of the Jewish people.

If you are an alumnus of a college or university, contact the school president and let them know how concerned you are about this issue and ask what they are doing about it. Suggest they include courses against movements of hate including anti-Semitism, monitor anti-Israel groups calling for death to Israel and Zionists, and take seriously any complaints of anti-Semitism by their Jewish students.

These are simple steps that most of us can take. While the global epidemic of anti-Semitism may seem overwhelming, it is still small enough in the United States to be addressed. If we focus on the local level and within our own sphere of influence, we can each make a small difference—and that can add up to a whole lot of good.

- by Susan Michael, Director of ICEJ USA and ACLI

 

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Thanksgiving and the Feast of Tabernacles

There is a lot we do not know about the very first Thanksgiving. Historians even debate where and when it took place—was it in Florida, Virginia, or Massachusetts? The most famous harvest meal, usually considered to be the first Thanksgiving, however, took place in the fall of 1621 in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

The Mayflower landed on the shores of Massachusetts on December 21, 1620, and some 100 pilgrims waded ashore in the icy waters only to find themselves unprepared for the harsh winter. Without food and supplies, sickness and disease took its toll—barely half survived till spring. The local Wampanoag Indians pitied these sickly newcomers and taught them how to plant crops, harvest them, and store reserves for the winter.

Once their fall harvest was gathered, the Pilgrims set aside time for a harvest festival to give thanks to God. They were joined by Chief Massasoit and some 90 Wampanoag Indians who contributed deer to their meal of cod, sea bass, turkey, duck, and geese. They feasted and celebrated for three days, thanking God for their abundant provisions.

The Biblical Precedent

While harvest festivals were common in other parts of the world, including England and Holland where they had lived, the Pilgrims were not given to secular festivities. They were very religious and approached everything from a biblical perspective. Therefore, we can be assured that their gathering was focused on the biblical doctrine of thanking God for His provision and blessing upon them. We should also expect that the Feast of Tabernacles was the biblical precedent for their harvesttime celebratory feast.

An anonymous Pilgrim hymn found in Songs of the Pilgrims published in 1887 confirms this:

We had gathered in our harvests, and stored the yellow grain,
For God had sent the sunshine, and sent the plenteous rain;
Our barley-land and corn-land had yielded up their store,
And the fear and dread of famine, oppressed our homes no more.
As the chosen tribes of Israel, in the far years of old,
When the summer fruits were garnered, and before the winter’s cold,
Kept their festal week with gladness, with songs and choral lays,
So we kept our first Thanksgiving in the hazy autumn days.

The Pilgrims were religious separatists who had fled persecution in England to live in the more tolerant society in Holland before they then set sail for a place where they could be free to build a society based on biblical principles and freedom of worship. They found in the pages of their Bibles a precedent for the freedom from bondage for which they were looking. The Israelites had been freed from slavery, crossed the Red Sea, and entered the promised land where they were free from oppression and able to serve the God of Israel. These biblically motivated Christians looked at the great Atlantic Ocean as their Red Sea, and the New World was their promised land where they would be free to live and worship as they wanted.

After arriving at the shores of their promised land and encountering the harsh cold winter without adequate supplies, they most certainly would have found comfort in the biblical story of the Israelites’ wilderness experience. They too encountered harsh conditions with no food or water, and just as God supernaturally provided for the Israelites, He would provide for the Pilgrims as they sought His help.

Sure enough, that help had come in the form of the local Indians who taught them how to grow grain and live off the land. They truly had much to be thankful for in the fall of 1621, and who better to celebrate with than the very Indians who had helped them so much.

The Pilgrims also had much to fear as they faced an uncertain future in a harsh environment and surrounded by other Indian tribes who were hostile. But they understood the biblical precedent for setting all of those troubles aside and celebrating God’s provision.

The biblical Feast of Tabernacles is a weeklong festival during which Jewish families gather together in a temporary dwelling (booth) to enjoy a celebratory dinner together to remember what God did for the nation of Israel as He delivered them out of Egypt and cared for them in the wilderness. It is not a feast that celebrates the absence of difficulty but a celebration of how God sustained them through the hard times. Therefore, these family gatherings are filled with thankfulness, celebration, and joy!

The God of Israel

The God that the Pilgrims were thanking for their survival and blessing was the very God who had protected, fed, and cared for the Israelites in the wilderness. As we face the Thanksgiving holiday here in America, it is important to remind ourselves who we are thanking and all He has done for us.

God Our Provider: He provided water from a rock and Manna to eat in the wilderness. He had provided the Pilgrims with an abundant harvest that would see them through the coming winter and allow the Plymouth colony to become established and flourish. Hence the roots of our nation were established.

God Our Guide: He led the Israelites through the desert with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. God had led these courageous Christians through rough times and waters to their promised land because of His desire to see a nation established on a biblical foundation that would then be a light of truth shining into a dark world.

God Our Defender: After the Egyptian army drowned in the Red Sea, the remaining Egyptians fled because they saw that the God of Israel was fighting on behalf of His children. Soon the Amalekites attacked the Israelites, and the Lord gave them the victory again. The Pilgrims knew there were hostile Indians in the area but that they could rely on the Lord, their defender, for safety.

God Who Dwells with His People: God instructed Moses to build a temporary structure (tabernacle) where His presence would reside because He desired to dwell with His people. The Pilgrims knew that through times of prayer and repentance, coupled with thanksgiving, they could keep in right relationship with God, and His presence would remain with them during their difficult times.

Our American Heritage

Ever since that early Thanksgiving feast, churches and states alike have called for days of prayer, fasting, and thanksgiving. According to Dr. Paul Jehle, the executive director of the Plymouth Rock Foundation, more than 300 days of public fasting and prayer, or days of thanksgiving for answered prayer, occurred between 1607 and 1800.

The first national day of thanksgiving was called in 1777 by the Continental Congress to thank God for the victory at the battle of Saratoga. They then issued annual thanksgiving proclamations each year through the end of the Revolutionary War.

Once the new Congress was established under the Constitution, a resolution was drawn, asking the president to call for a day of public thanksgiving and prayer. In 1789, George Washington’s first official act as president was to do just that.

As we prepare for Thanksgiving some 230 years later, let’s remember the words of His proclamation and pray for godly leaders who will acknowledge our nation’s indebtedness to God and call us all to repentance and thanksgiving as he did.

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly implore His protection and favor ... I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be, that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country …

That we may unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations, and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our national government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a government of wise, just and constitutional laws …

… and generally, to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

- by Susan Michael, ICEJ US Director, creator of Israel Answers, and the American Christian Leaders for Israel (ACLI) network


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