You Gotta Serve Somebody – Covenant of Salt

A number of years ago, during his “Christian” phase, Bob Dylan wrote a song called “Gotta Serve Somebody.”  In this song, Dylan mentions all kinds of people, lifestyles, and professions.  Yet the bottom line for every person, no matter who they are or what they do, is that they must serve somebody – either the devil or the L-RD.  You can dress Satan up with all the religious finery you desire (1 Cor. 8:4-6), but in the end, it is still Satan and not the one True God (1 Cor. 10:18-22).  Whom you serve will be seen in your thoughts, words, and/or actions.  I believe this truth is found in the little used Tenach phrase “Covenant of Salt.”  Though it is used only three times in Scripture, it has great significance to the believer in Yeshua today.

The first time this phrase is found is in Leviticus 2:13 where the order of the words is “salt of the covenant.”  The context of this passage is the grain offering, which was to have salt added to it.  But the Spirit didn’t stop with just the grain offerings.  He had Moses write in the same verse that the Israelites were to “add salt to all your offerings.”  Thus, all offerings made by the Israelites to the L-RD, not just grain offerings, were to have salt added to them.

The second usage, found in Numbers 18:19, is also in the context of offerings.  This time, however, the word order has been changed to “covenant of salt”.  In Numbers 18, the L-RD tells Moses to instruct Aaron and the Levites that it is their responsibility to take care of the Tabernacle.  Moses was also to let them know that “all the holy offerings the Israelites give Me I give to you and your sons as your portion and regular share.”  This was their allotment, as they were not going to receive any inheritance in the Land because G-d was their inheritance.  All the offerings, except for the burnt offerings, belonged to them.  G-d was letting them know that He Himself was going to provide for them through the offerings given by the people.  “Whatever is set aside from the holy offerings the Israelites present to the L-RD I (G-d) give to you…It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the L-RD.”  The Kohenim were to serve G-d and trust Him for their livelihoods.

The last time the phrase is found is in 2 Chronicles 13:5.  In this particular passage the L-RD gave the kingship of Israel to David and his descendants forever through a “covenant of salt.”  Although the previous two usages are found in the context of offerings, this one is clearly devoid of them.  The 2 Chronicles passage appears to be totally unrelated to the previous two usages, yet is it?  Since the Bible itself never directly defines the phrase in any of these passages, how does one discover what G-d is trying to tell us through them?  Equally important, what does it mean to the believer in Yeshua today?

Some scholars point out that salt was used as a preserving element.  It was added to the meat to help it stay fresh longer, until the priests could eat it.  Others point to the prohibition of eating meat containing blood; salt was applied to the offering (after it was killed and the skin removed) to aid in the removal of the blood from the carcass.  Salt was therefore seen as a cleansing or purifying agent as well.

I have only one problem with these two lines of reasoning.  Salt was to be “added to all your offerings”, including the grain offering, which had no blood.  The burnt offerings, which were to have salt, were never to be eaten by the priests as the entire animal was consumed by fire (Lev. 1). Therefore in those cases no preservation or cleansing agent would be needed.  Furthermore, it couldn’t just be related to the Kohenim, as the phrase “covenant of salt’ was also used with David, who was from the tribe of Judah.  Thus the meaning of the “salt covenant” had to mean something other than preservation, prevention from eating blood, or cleansing.

One scholar noted that “salt had an enduring quality and therefore in the Middle East salt was used in ceremonies to seal an agreement.  Hence, the idea may simply be that G-d’s call upon the Kohenim and their service should endure, i.e., overcome all things.”  I believe this definition is heading in the right direction, but it doesn’t go far enough as it is used in connection with the House of David and the Israelites who presented the offerings.  Something more is going on with this “covenant of salt”.  Could it be that the “covenant of salt” was all about a relationship with G-d based upon trust?

The people were to trust G-d by giving the salt that was put into their offering.  Their G-d would provide for them and they were to give back out of love and obedience.  The priests and Levites were to trust G-d by serving Him without a land inheritance like their brothers.  Their G-d would provide for their livelihood while they were away from their cities which were interspersed throughout Israel.  David and his sons were to trust G-d as the King and serve Him, believing He would keep the throne moving through David’s line long after David and his sons departed the scene.

When we break down the phrase into it’s component words and put them back together again, this is the truth I believe the L-RD is trying to convey in the phrase “covenant of salt”:  He desires a relationship with His people based upon trust that is seen in their actions and, eventually, through a changed life.

The first word in the phrase, “covenant”, is the Hebrew word “bĕriyth” (בּרית).  This word basically means an agreement or alliance between two parties where each party makes a pledge to keep their end of the bargain.  The first time this word is found is in Genesis 6:18.  Noah was to build the Ark and gather the animals.  If Noah would fulfill his end of the bargain, G-d would get them safely through the coming storm.  This took trust.  In order to go through the embarrassment of building a boat so far away from water, in order to start gathering supplies for animals which he had quite possibly never seen or even heard of before, Noah had to trust G-d to keep His end of the bargain.

This agreement was based upon mutual trust.  If Noah did his part, would he trust G-d to do His part?  The answer is given right after G-d writes up the contract.  Noah “did everything just as G-d commanded him.”  Noah showed his trust in G-d through his actions of living out the words of the contract, or covenant.

Now, sometimes these agreements are applied to both parties, as previously mentioned; at other times it was totally conditional upon one party.  This is seen in Genesis 9:9 when G-d made a deal with Noah to never destroy the earth again by water.  The passage never says Noah had to do anything but trust his G-d to fulfill His word.  One can understand why G-d said this to Noah too.  Noah had just gotten off the wildest ride of his life!  I believe G-d was calming Noah’s nerves a little here.  When Noah stepped off the boat he could have been thinking, “I sure hope I never have to go through that again.”  And G-d comes to Noah’s rescue, “Relax Noah, it’s over.  Neither you nor your descendents will ever have to repeat this heart-racing experience.”  Still, what would it take?  Trusting in G-d’s word.  Every time the skies started clouding up, Noah would need to remember G-d’s word – no more floods.  As He trusted G-d’s word, peace would replace the anxiety.  But first Noah had to trust.

More examples could be given, but trust is the basis of any “bĕriyth”, or covenant.  It’s an agreement between two parties, based in trust, to fulfill their end of the deal.

Now let’s consider the idea behind the Hebrew word for salt, “melach” (מלח), a noun that comes from the root word “malach” (מלח) which means to rub to pieces or pulverize, to disappear as dust, or to season or rub with salt.

Melach is primarily used for the Salt/Dead Sea (Gen. 14:3; Num. 34:3,12; Deut. 3:17; Josh. 3:16), which will one day be made fresh again – Ezekiel 47:11.  There is an important clue here for our understanding of the phrase “covenant of salt.”  Keep something in mind:  this body of water was once salty or dead, but will one day be made fresh or alive again.

What I find interesting about melach, however, is the first time it is used in the Bible.  In Genesis 19:26 Lot’s wife is turned into salt for looking back.  Though the word for covenant is not used in this story, the angel had an agreement with Lot.  The angel would only destroy Sodom and Gomorrah after Lot and his family was out of town and had safely reached the city of Zoar.  What did Lot’s wife do?  She did not keep her agreement to “not look back.”  It appears that she left her heart in Sodom with the accompanying lifestyle she left behind.  In her heart, she didn’t want to leave and thus was judged for it when she was turned into salt, or disappeared as dust.

This idea of pulverizing something in order to scatter it to the wind is also seen in Judges 9:45 when Abimelech destroyed the city of Shechem and poured salt over it.  In this story, the people of Shechem rebel against their leaders, Gideon’s sons.  The citizens of Shechem made Abimelech king, after which Abimelech wipes out every single son of Gideon, save one Jotham.

In order to right this wrong, G-d moves the citizens to rebel or break their agreement with Abimelech, who in turn wipes them out.  Again, it is the same as Lot’s wife.  Just as she rebelled and paid the consequence for it, so did the city of Shechem.

Melach is not only associated with death, destruction, and judgment.  It is also associated with the sacrificial system (Leviticus 2:13).  Now stop for a moment and ask yourself, “What was the purpose of the sacrificial system?”  According to Hebrews 9:11-10:18, sacrifices pointed to the One who would take the punishment or the negative consequences of all our sinful actions (death, destruction, and judgment) – Yeshua.  In Him we find forgiveness and restoration to a relationship that was broken because we refused to trust our G-d and His way of living.

Continuing on, Exodus 30:34-38 uses melach in the process of making the Temple incense.  David wrote in Psalm 141:2, “May my prayer be set before You like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice”, both of which (incense and sacrifice) had salt added to them.  Is it possible that salt aids our worship to G-d?  Could every act of faith or trust/covenant (1 Corinthians 10:31) be an act of salting our worship?

Paul, as a Jewish Rabbi, would have known the above Tenach passages. In fact, Paul uses Temple and sacrifice images quite often in his writings.  So when he penned the words in Romans 12:1-2 that we are to offer our “bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God”, could he have been thinking of the salt added to all the sacrifices?  Paul goes on to say that once we offer ourselves to G-d, we are to let Him change our lives through changing our thinking, which in turn changes our behavior, glorifying and thus worshiping the G-d we say we love.

It’s interesting that Revelation 8:3 uses this same imagery – incense on the golden altar (meaning the incense altar in front of the veil between the Holies of Holies and the Most Holy Place, where the coals from the outside bronze sacrificial altar were laid and incense was poured on top of the burning coals causing smoke).  Do our lives smell (both the offerings and the incense) good to our G-d?

But there is more!  Ezekiel 16:6 states that Israel was not born with a right to be G-d’s child.  When they were born their cord was not cut, they were not washed with water, rubbed with salt, or wrapped in clothes.  No, G-d took them and made them His.  The context here is that Israel was still living like her parents, the Hittites and the Amorites, in full idolatry mode.  They were still tied by an umbilical cord to their mother.  In other words, their behavior hadn’t changed!  Israel was still acting like her parents.  And if her umbilical cord was not cut, she would die when the placenta started discharging from the womb after birth.

Again we discover that salt carries the idea of worshiping the one true G-d, the G-d of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, through Israel trusting their G-d by cutting her ties to her idolatrous parents/past.  Israel needed to make a covenant of salt with their G-d to follow Him and worship Him alone.

The next two places where salt is used are also very insightful.  In 2 Kings 2:20-21, salt was used to heal a body of water so it could be drinkable.  Now think about this for a second.  When salt is added to water, one gets salt water, not fresh.  You might use salt water to gargle, but certainly not to drink.  Now imagine what was going through the minds of those watching Elisha throw salt into their putrid water hole.

“Elisha, hold on!  You’re going to make the situation even worse!  Are you sure the L-RD said to do this?  It doesn’t make sense, Elisha.  Why would you waste valuable salt by throwing it into an already bad source of water?  You’re just throwing it away!”

Why would Elisha do it?  Trust.  After Elisha threw the salt into the water, it “became wholesome”.  How would the people know it was good to drink?  They would have to trust their G-d enough to dip their hand into the water and draw it to their lips.  Pouring salt must have seemed like a crazy thing to do to them.  But when it comes to walking with our G-d, isn’t this what it takes – going against the way we think to do what He tells us to do?

This is the same idea behind Job 6:6 when Job makes the point that salt is added to tasteless food to make it worth eating.  Again, isn’t this just like our G-d to make something tasty out of two things that don’t belong together?  The question is, “Will we trust Him?”

Furthermore, didn’t it take trust to give up the salt in the first place?  Where did the salt for the sacrifices come from?  The incense?  The healing of the water?  It came from the Israelites.  Look at it from their point of view.  Salt contained the very elements necessary for their survival.

During the Tenach times, Israel was primarily an agricultural society.  They worked out in the sun for a living, which brought on a good sweat.  Because of this, they would need to replenish their bodies with sodium and chloride, of which salt is a good source.  These two elements, along with potassium, are involved in everything you do from nerve impulse conduction to muscle contraction.  If these three elements get out of balance in your system, you’re not going to have a good day.

Now, here comes your G-d telling you that you must give Him some of your salt.  Would you trust Him?  Would you give your precious salt to Elisha to throw in your bad spring?  Would you trust your G-d and add salt to all your sacrifices?  This is why I believe G-d put the last usage of “covenant of salt” with the House of David.  It ties the two ideas of salt and covenant together.

The Talmud says, “The world can get along without pepper, but it cannot get along without salt.”  (Yerushalmi Hora’yot 3:5)  This tractate is referring to the 2 Chronicles 13:5 passage where G-d gave “the kingship of Israel to David and his descendants forever by a covenant of salt.”  Treaties were sealed in salt.   Covenants were based upon trust.  Giving someone your salt was a sign of that trust.  And G-d was making a treaty with David to have his children sit on his throne forever, no matter how good or bad they were!

So when we put the words “covenant” and “salt” back together, it stands for the idea of two parties making and keeping an agreement with each other based upon trust.  The word “salt” gives us the truth that we should trust our G-d enough to live with and for Him in our every day lives.  In the every day decisions we encounter, we are to sacrifice our way of living and thinking and trust His Word.

The covenant gives us the thought that when we trust our G-d and live His way – our part of the agreement – He will change our lives for the better, one where no judgment is needed – His part of the agreement.  He can make life come out of the dead areas of your life.  He can turn an unsatisfying life into a tasty one.  Where we were once alone, we can now communicate with the G-d of the universe.  Instead of fear and anxiety, we can have peace.

This covenant of salt is all about who you are going to serve: God or Satan?  Serve Satan and be judged, eventually die, and spend your eternity with him.  Serve God and be saved, and taste goodness both now and forever.

I believe we find this same meaning carried over into the New Testament.  The Bible is consistent throughout because it is one Book written by one Author with one Message.  In order to help us see this, we must use the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Tenach, to follow our words forward.

According to the Septuagint, the Hebrew word for salt (“melach”) in Leviticus 2:23 becomes the Greek word “halas” (ἅλας).  “Halas”, or salt, is used in Matthew 5:13 where Jesus states that we are “the salt of the earth.”  Most Christian commentaries talk about salt as a preserving agent.  As believers live for Yeshua, they slow down the decay of this planet.   When believers are finally taken off the planet, the decay happens rapidly.   As Jesus said in Matthew 24:21-22, if G-d didn’t shorten the days of Jacob’s trouble no one would survive the tremendous evil being unleashed.

I used to believe and teach this same thought, but not anymore.  As I came to understand the Tenach concept of the Covenant of Salt, it made me re-examine this passage again.  I discovered that the immediate context of Jesus’ “salt of the earth” statement is being persecuted for righteousness.  He just got done telling those listening to Him on the mountainside they would be blessed over and over again if they followed Him.  One of those blessing was persecution!  If one lives for Yeshua as “the salt of the earth”, one should expect to be insulted, persecuted and falsely accused.  Jesus is telling His followers the reality of following Him – the good, the bad and the ugly truth of it all.

He continues this line of thinking in Luke 14:34-35.   In this passage, Yeshua also uses salt in the context of counting the cost of being His disciple.  He tells those listening to Him that they must love Him more than their family and their very life itself.  Then after talking about calculating the cost of building a tower and going to war, He states that once salt loses its saltiness, it’s not good for anything, even for fertilizer.  It has no value whatsoever, so He tells His listeners to listen up.  Living for Him will not be a walk in the park.  It will cost them something; so think about it before they begin the journey.

In Mark 9:42-50, Yeshua moves past counting the cost to actually living for Him.  Salt is now used in the context of living in such a way as to not stumble other believers (“little ones who believe in Me to sin”).  He goes on to emphasize His point by saying, “If your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.”  Notice Jesus changed the subject of the sentence from just anyone to you.  Believers in Yeshua are to live in such a way that their lives will affect others in a positive manner.

After saying this, Yeshua then makes the statement “everyone will be salted with fire.”  Wow!  Will you trust your G-d enough to live His way even during the trials of life?  Jesus finishes his discourse in Mark 9 with this, “Have salt (ἅλας/melach) in yourselves, and be at peace with each other.”

What’s the big deal about being at peace with each other?  It’s a sign a believer trusts and is living for Yeshua in their everyday lives.  Jesus said there would be three distinguishing marks of those who call themselves His disciples.  One, they would love each other (cf. Jn. 13:34-35).  Two, they would bear the fruit of a changed life (cf. Jn. 15:1-8).  And three, they would live in unity (cf. Jn. 17:20-23).  We are to be salted so others will know He is G-d!  We are to trust our G-d enough to live His way seven days a week.  When we do, the world will know we are His.

And guess what happens then?  It’s the point of Jesus’ next statement in Matthew 5:14, “you are the light of the world.”  A light doesn’t necessarily draw attention to itself.  Its real purpose is to shine on something else so it can be seen.  This is the context of His next statement, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”  As we live a salty life, one based upon trust, people will see Yeshua in us and hopefully want a relationship with Him.

This is what the Spirit had written in Colossians 4:6, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so you know how to give an answer to everyone.”  The context is sharing the gospel of Yeshua.  Paul told the Colossians to be wise in how they acted (trust in action) towards those who don’t know Jesus so they could make the most of every opportunity to share their Yeshua story of how He had changed their lives.

How does this happen?  It comes back to the point I made earlier in Romans 12:1-2, which I believe is the Covenant of Salt in action.  As we offer our bodies as living sacrifices (salt was added) you are dying to self and living for G-d.  How is this seen?  Trusting G-d’s Word (basis of a covenant) and allowing Him to change your life on a daily basis (“transformed by the renewing of your mind”).

As you agree to worship Him through your every day actions, even when it costs you something or goes against your way of thinking, you’ll become salty, which will make people thirsty enough to ask, “Where do you find your peace in the midst of tough times?  How can you live the way you do when everyone else is doing the opposite?”  Those who are the salt of the earth will automatically be the light of the world and will be ready to shine their light on Jesus.

It is your choice. You gotta serve somebody.  Your actions will tell whether you are serving the L-RD or Satan.  What do your actions say about you?  As a believer in Yeshua, if you don’t serve Jesus, your life will not only be unsatisfying, but it will also lose its meaning and purpose.  You’ll become what Jesus said happens to salt that is no longer salty, “Trampled by men.”  Why would anyone want to listen to you?

We are to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice – choosing to trust G-d, rather than ourselves in our every day thoughts, attitudes, decisions, words and actions.  We are to be salty, which in turn leads to being a light.  Yet, you choose whom you will serve.  And it’s like the song says, “You gotta serve somebody.”  Who’s it going to be?

True Peace is Being Comfortable in Uncomfortable Situations

I’m sitting right now relaxing on my back patio with a cup of diet Dr. Pepper in hand.  I’m soaking up the view and smells of my backyard.  I’m eying my various fruit trees, some loaded with peaches, apples and plums, taking in the aroma of freshly cut grass, and looking at my recently built shed, a metal shed.

If you have ever put up a metal shed, you know where I am going with this.  I had budgeted one day of about 10 hours to get this thing built.  Wrong!  It ended up taking my father-in-law and me over 17 hours to put it up!   Frustrating? Very.  I still have more work to do on it – putting up shelves and moving the junk, I mean “stuff” out of my garage and into it.  It seems like my work list is never ending.

But you know, I’m at peace right now.  I’ve just completed a huge task, got more to do, but here I am sitting on my deck soaking up the view and smells of why I love where I live.  This is a perfect example of what the Bible calls a ‘Sabbath Rest’ or what I like to call true peace – being comfortable in uncomfortable situations.

The other day I was going through my emails and ran across the most interesting picture.

The author of the article called this the “cat position”.  It is where you throw your legs over your head and place them on the floor.  It looks crazy!!  First of all, I don’t believe it can be done; it’s got to be a Photoshopped picture.  And second, even if it were possible, I can’t imagine it being comfortable at all (someone later emailed a YouTube of a dance group doing this!) .  But the author was simply illustrating that the highest success is “not in simply finding comfort, but rather in finding it in the most uncomfortable of positions.”

This got me to thinking about Jesus.  Isn’t this what He came to do?  He came to give us peace in the midst of challenges and trials, not get rid of them.  This thought led me to do two things.  One, I changed the author’s phrase to “true peace/rest is being comfortable in uncomfortable situations.”  And then I looked up the word “rest” in the Bible.  Wow, what an interesting study it proved to be.

The very first time the word “rest” is used is Genesis 2:2, “By the seventh day, God had finished His work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work.” The word Sabbath (Shabbat in Hebrew) is none other than the root of the word for “rest” in Genesis 2:2.  It means to cease, desist, rest, to put an end to, to sever, or to stop.  Therefore the idea behind the Sabbath day of rest is to stop doing something.  What did God stop doing on the Sabbath?

Psalms 74:12 states, “For God is my King of old, working (to do or to make) salvation in the midst of the earth.” This idea of God still working is echoed in the New Testament as well in John 5:17, “My Father is always at his work (to labor for, to toil, a trade) to this very day, and I, too, am working.”Guess what day Jesus makes this statement?  The Sabbath day!  Jesus was working on the Sabbath.  Whoa, wait a second.  I thought Jews were not supposed to work on the Sabbath?

Yes, that is right, but this has always been the question, “How do you define work?”  What we are going to see is that God didn’t cease all His work on the 7th day, only His work of original creation, not His work of salvation.

We see this truth very clearly in Jesus.  During His lifetime, Jesus was seen as a healer, not just a rabbi.  Therefore the religious leaders of His day got on His case because He was healing on the Sabbath.  And if that were true, Jesus, being Jewish, would be breaking Torah (Ex. 20:8-12) by healing (aka a doctor) on the Sabbath.  Furthermore, Jesus would be sinning and thereby could not be God and die for all of humanity’s sins.

But, was Jesus just healing?  Or was He doing something else, like His Father’s work?  In Matthew 12, Jesus had a conversation with those accusing Him of working on the Sabbath.  He tells them, “Haven’t you read in the Torah that on the Sabbath the priests in the Temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent?” He is more than likely referring to Leviticus 24:8 where the priests were to replace the old Showbread on the Table of Presence with fresh hot bread.  This was done on the Sabbath.  They were doing the work God asked them to do and it was on the Sabbath.  So doing the work of God on a Sabbath was okay to do.

So here we are back at the same question, “What work is allowed on the Sabbath?”  I believe John 6:29 gives us the answer.  Jesus was asked, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” His answer, “The work of God (notice the definite article and singular noun) is this: to believe in the one He has sent.” The work of God is salvation, saving lives!  In that same conversation Jesus went on to hash out this principle, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out?  How much more valuable is a man than a sheep!  Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

He was not a miracle worker or a healer by trade.  He healed people to prove Who He was, “Even though you do not believe Me, believe the miracles, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father” (Jn. 10:38).  The miracles were to draw people to believe in Who He was – God in the Flesh.  This is what Jesus meant in Matthew 12 when He said He, as the Son of Man, was Lord of the Sabbath.  He was and is the Messiah of Israel.  He is the Savior of all mankind – Jew and Gentile.

There is more to this word shabat, however.  In Leviticus 16:31, Moses gives us the term “Sabbath of rest.”  Guess what day this takes place on?  The Day of Atonement.  “Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of Israel.” While the High Priest was sacrificing one goat and letting another one go for the sins of the nation, the people themselves were resting.  Someone was working for another to be at rest!  Someone was providing rest while others were enjoying it.  Whom could that be a picture of?

But wait there is more.  In Leviticus 23, the day of no work/the day of rest (though the word shabat is not used in this passage) was not on Passover, but the day after the lambs were sacrificed and eaten.  Rest comes after the work was done.

Now read Colossians 2:16-17, “Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.  These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Messiah.” The entire Tanach, the Feasts, the sacrifices and the Days all are shadows, not the real thing.  The real deal is what causes the shadow.  In this case, Paul, a believing Jewish rabbi, tells us that Messiah is the reality, the one that casts the shadow.

So to whom was the high priest pointing when he provided atonement for the nation of Israel while the nation was resting on the Day of Atonement?  Jesus.  Who provided the forgiveness of sin for the entire planet through His work – Jew and Gentile – so people could rest?  The Passover Lamb of God, Jesus Himself.

So what do we learn from this word shabat?  It carries the idea of resting while there is still work to be done.  God still had a job to do while He was resting in Genesis 2:2.  He finished His task of creation, but He still had a work of salvation to do.  Jesus was resting while working on the Sabbath – proving Who He was so people would put their faith/trust in Him.  Shabat also has the idea of resting while someone else does work on your behalf.  Jesus provides for our rest.  He gives us the ability to be at peace, while there is work still to be done.

Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).  We love this part, but we forget to keep going.  Jesus further said, “Take My Yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (11:29-30).

Rest in the midst of work.  Jesus gives us rest, but He tells us to be yoked to Him at the same time.  A yoke was a harness put on two oxen so they would work together as a team.  When the oxen were at rest, their owners didn’t yoke them!  So the yoke tells us that there was work to be done, but with Jesus yoked to us, there can be rest.  Notice He said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” He didn’t say they were not existent.

This is what Philippians 4:4-7 is taking about.  In the midst of stressful situations, we are told to rejoice!  Why?  The Lord is near.  And instead of freaking out, we are to rejoice and hand over those stressful situations to the One who is yoked with us.  And when we do, “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” This is true peace.  Paul never said the stressful situations went away.  He simply said you’d have peace in the midst of them.  True peace is being comfortable in uncomfortable situations.

This is the essence of a Sabbath’s rest. Work is still to be done, but we are to rest in the midst of it.  I finished the shed, but there was work to still to be done.  In the midst of that, I could sit on my patio drinking my diet Dr. Pepper while taking in the sights and smells of relaxation.

And our Jewish brothers and sisters get a cool reminder of this every Sabbath day.  Come sundown on Friday, when Sabbath begins, they can let the past week go (their shed being done), and rest (sitting and enjoy a cool drink on their patio); yet knowing another week is coming (cleaning out the garage).  The Sabbath day, along with many other practices found in the Tanach (aka Old Testament) come alive in Jesus.  They make more sense and have a deeper meaning because they all point to Him and His work on our behalf so we can rest.

So let’s take this home.  We all have lists of things to do.  Can you rest in the midst of that to-do list?  Can you hand that daily to-do list over to Jesus and let Him give you peace while it is being whittled down?  Peace when it’s not?  This is peace that makes one comfortable in the midst of uncomfortable situations.

When new challenges come your way, how do you view them?  Do you view them simply as opportunities to rest as you see your God work (creation, Day of Atonement, Passover, etc.)?  This is true Sabbath rest – keep walking in peace in the midst of the challenge.

Are you taking a day off to rest and reflect on the fact that you can rest in the midst of work?  Think about when the Israelites were given the Sabbath.  They were primarily an agricultural society.  And they were told to take a day off each week in the midst of the planting and harvesting seasons.  This took trust!  Could they relax knowing that work was to be done?  Would they trust their God and His Word to protect them from invaders while the fields were full of fruit?

We in America hate to slow down.  Is it because we lack trust in our great and awesome God?  Tithing of money and time is a way to show that you trust God to meet your needs – even with the harvest, the huge debt, or the huge workload staring you in the face.  We can learn a lot from our Jewish brothers and sisters on this point.  They take a day off to rest.  Instead of bashing them for this (“You’re going back to the Law.”), let’s learn from them.

A Sabbath rest carries the idea of being at peace with God because He forgave your sins.  Are you resting in faith or still trying to work your way towards a relationship with the living God?   True peace comes from the work Jesus did for you so you can rest in the midst of trying times as well as the daily routine.  Are you resting as you walk with Him?  Oh come to think of it, my glass is empty.  It’s time I put a little more Dr. Pepper in it and enjoy the sights.

Calling out the Church

The problem with words is when we use words that don’t convey to the listener what we are really trying to say.

How many times have you been in a conversation where you have been misunderstood because you used a certain word that your listener took in a way you didn’t mean?  And then you find yourself saying, “That’s not what I meant.  Let me try again” and this time you use a different word.  The same is true of the word “church”.

The Greek word (the language in which the NT was written) behind our word “church” (by the way, this word didn’t come about until the 12th century) is “ekklēsia” which comes from two other words “ek” and “kalew”.

Ek means the origin or the place or point whence motion or action proceeds”.  It means you are moving away from or out of one area into another.  It also denotes that the action is completed.  Bottom line, you are no longer at point A, you are now at point B. The other root is “kaleo” which means “to call, bid, call forth.”

The meaning of “church”

Now put these two concepts together and you have those are who called out, those who have moved from point A and are now at point B.

Acts 20:28 reveals that point B is God.  Romans 16:16 says that point B is Christ.  1 Corinthians 11:18; 14:5 states that it is other believers in Christ.

“Church” then is not about programs or buildings, it’s not about Sunday or Saturday morning services, nor is it about a place.  The ekklesia is about relationships—period.  Relationships between Jesus, who is the head of this group, and between other called out ones.

You heard me say this before, and you’ll hear me say it again, you can only take two things with you to heaven—your Christ-like character and people.  Sound like what the ekklesia is all about?

The moment we place our faith in Jesus as our LORD and Savior, the Spirit of God puts us into relationship with other believers and He expects us to walk with them, not in our old ways of dealing with people (point A), but with new ways (point B).

The movement from A to B

We are no longer to be like the world, copy what society tells us or live in the various lifestyles that we did before we put our trust in Jesus (point A or what Paul calls in Eph. 5:8 “darkness”).

No, we are “taught with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self” (point A) and instead “be imitators of God as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loves us” (point B—Eph. 4:22; 5:1).

A person who belongs to the called out ones should be on a journey to be like Jesus, which means getting along with other believers.  It is no coincidence that the Spirit has given over 30 different ways in which to walk with each other on this journey (i.e. the one-another phrases).

Stuck at A though Showing B

I hear it all the time, however, and you probably have as well, “I don’t like Church.”  What they are really saying is, “I don’t like the people that meet at such and such a place.”  In fact, I’ve heard this complaint go a step further, “I feel more accepted and loved by my non-believing friends than I do by those at church.”  This should not be!

I believe a partial answer to this problem is found in the infamous bumper sticker, “Christians are not perfect, just forgiven.”  This statement is true, but it’s also deceiving.

Because of what Jesus did for us on the cross, we are truly forgiven of all our sins—past, present and future.  So the statement is true.  I am on a journey to be like Him and will make mistakes, sin, along that journey.  Therefore, I am not perfect just forgiven.

But the statement is deceiving in that it leads people to believe that since I am not perfect, I can act any old way I desire because I will be forgiven.  This is from the pit of hell.  This is why people are turning away from the “church”  The called out ones at “church” are stuck at point A yet want to make others believe they have arrived at point B.  This is fake.  This is unhealthy and it is flat out repulsive to those who need real people to love and accept them on their journey to be like Jesus.

Be Real and in Process

Healthy ekklesians are in process, taking steps of faith on the high wire act of being like Jesus.  Sure there are risks of falling when you step out in faith, but don’t let that hinder you from walking on that high wire.  Why?  You have a safety net!

“Grace (aka the forgiveness on the bumper sticker) is the safety net of faith, not the license to be complacent.”  As we walk with Jesus by faith, by taking risks in trusting Him, we will at times stand and at other times will fall in the process of putting off the old and putting on the new, but grace is our safety net.  It will catch us and give us another shot on that high wire.  And just as we want that room to grow, let’s make sure we give that same grace to others on their journey to be like Jesus as well.

Healthy believers will be real with each other.  “Brother, I’m on a journey too.  Let’s walk together.”   Let’s not act church, but be called out ones—people moving together from here to heaven.

Love ya, pc

Belief Demands Action

If you knew for certain that an earthquake was going to happen tomorrow, what would you do?  You’d prepare!  Jesus has told us that an earthquake is coming – His return to take His Bride the Church home.  Yet because it has been over 2,000 years since He made this statement, most people who call themselves Christians today tend to play rather than prepare.  They live as if He were not coming tomorrow.

How do I know this to be true?  I recently read a statistic that only 4% of those who call themselves Christians live with a Biblical worldview.  In other words, only 4% live their lives through the lens of God’s Word.  4%!  This means that 96% of those who call themselves Christians will not be prepared when Jesus returns for His Bride.  They don’t believe He is returning anytime soon; therefore they can live anyway they desire.

But is Jesus’ return closer than they believe?  Are there ways to tell if He really could come tomorrow?  Absolutely.  When Israel became a nation again in 1948 in fulfillment of Ezekiel 37, the clock started ticking even faster.  From my article on “America in Prophecy – Where is She?”, you can get other markers showing the Lord’s return could be very soon.  The point is, the big hand on the clock is moving closer and closer to return hour.

The following story gives us another marker that His return could be closer than we think – the preparation to build the 3rd Temple.  Jesus tells us in Matthew 24:15-15 that a Temple in Jerusalem must be standing when the False Messiah (sometimes referred to as the Antichrist) arrives on the scene to set up shop in it.  This event takes place after Jesus comes for His bride.

Keep in mind that Jesus makes this statement about 35AD when the Temple was still standing.  Thirty-five years later that very Temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD who wanted to crush the Jewish revolt.  Since then, the Temple Mount has been without a Jewish Temple though the Muslims have done plenty of building on it themselves.

Having said all that, the Temple Institute in Jerusalem is dedicated to rebuilding the 3rd Jewish Temple right on the spot where the Temple in Jesus’ day stood.  The Jewish people believe a 3rd Temple must be built so the Messiah can come.  Therefore, they are putting that belief into action.  They are currently preparing the priests for service.  They have built all the major instruments for worship in the Temple – the Menorah, the Table of Showbread, the Incense Altar, the Laver for washing and now the last major piece – the Sacrificial Altar – is being readied.

Temple Institute to Build Sacrificial Altar on Tisha B’av

“The Temple Institute will begin building the sacrificial altar on Thursday, Tisha B’av, a fast day when Jews mourn the destruction of the Temple (ed. note: the one that stood during Jesus’ day) some 2,000 years ago.

The sacrificial altar was located in the center of the Temple, and upon it the Kohanim (priests) offered the numerous voluntary and obligatory sacrifices commanded in the Bible.

The Temple Institute, which has already built many of the vessels for the Holy Temple, such as the ark and the menorah, has now embarked on a project to build the altar.  Construction begins Thursday in Mitzpe Yericho (east of Jerusalem) at 5:30 p.m.

’Unfortunately, we cannot currently build the altar in its proper place, on the Temple Mount,’ Temple Institute director Yehudah Glick said.  ‘We are building an altar of the minimum possible size so that we will be able to transport it to the Temple when it is rebuilt.’

Gathering Stones (Israel news photo: Temple Institute)

Even a minimum size altar will work out to be approximately 4 meters tall, 6 meters long, and 6 meters wide.  Workers have collected around 10 cubic meters of rocks weighing several tons already.

The rocks were gathered from the Dead Sea area and wrapped individually to assure they remain whole and are not touched by metal, as the Bible requires.

‘The Torah says that no iron tools should be used on the altar’s stones,’ Glick explained. ‘The altar represents a connection to life and to the creation of the world.  Iron is the opposite – it is used to build tools of war, death, and destruction.’

The stones will be cemented together with a mixture of sand, clay, tar, and asphalt.  Researchers from the Temple Institute visited the Finish glass factory near Yerucham to learn how to create a mixture which would remain as cool as possible under the altar’s unremitting fires and protect the Kohanim, who always worked in the Temple barefoot.

Glick said that Tisha B’av, a day associated with mourning, is really the ideal time to begin to build the Temple. ‘People mistakenly think Tisha B’av is only a day to cry,’ he explained.  ‘It also has to be a day of action. We have the ability in our era to begin the construction of the Temple.  There are many positive developments recently with regard to the Temple,’ Glick added. ‘Hundreds of Jews visited the Temple Mount this week, and more and more continue to come, after undergoing the requisite ritual immersion.’”

Yehudah Lev Kay

Pastor Chris End Note

Events that the Bible talks about are coming true in our lifetime.  Many of the milestones pointing to Jesus’ return are already in place.  The time then to prepare for the earthquake is before it happens, not as it is happening.  The time to prepare for Jesus’ return is before He comes, not as He comes.

What does this mean for the person who calls themselves a Christian?  It’s time to get serious about your preparations for His return.  There are only two things you can take to heaven with you – your Christ-like character (1 Cor. 3:10-15) and people, nothing else.  In John 15, Jesus states that His Father expects fruit in your life.  Is there?  If not, I would check where your faith is – yourself or Jesus.  Do you really believe that Jesus died and rose from the dead in order to set you free from sin so you can enjoy a great relationship with Him and His Father?  If not, now is the time to put your trust solely in what He did for you, not what you can or did do for Him.

The Bible is clear on this point.  “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  (Rom. 6:23)  And “if you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom. 10:9)  I challenge you to take a few moments now and put your trust in what Jesus did for you and let Him save you and make you part of His Bride, the one He will return to take home with Him.

Believer, Jesus tells us that He has given us resources to use to see Him change our lives and see others come to faith in Him.  Are we faithfully using those resources?  Or are you playing for more time?   Are you counting upon church attendance to make Jesus happy with you or are you living in such a way that Jesus will smile when He sees you at His return?  Will He say, “Well done good and faithful servant” at His coming for His Bride?  I certainly hope so.  If you believe that Jesus is Lord, it’s time to put that belief into action.

It’s time to prepare.  Jesus is coming sooner than you think!