In May of 2010, I was invited to teach at a prayer conference in Korea, on the subject of the Abrahamic Covenant. The Holy Spirit led me to teach on this subject of ancestor worship from the brit-am (covenant of the people) of Isaiah 42 & 49, and especially from Genesis 17:4: "As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be a father of many nations."
Over the last several years, we at Revive Israel have focused a great deal on understanding and seeing the physical appearances of the Lord (YHVH), the Angel of the Lord, and the Angel (messenger) of the covenant, as pre-incarnate appearances of Yeshua himself. This has opened up whole horizons of Biblical revelation, and helped us greatly in communicating the Gospel to our people. Genesis 17 (especially verse 4) seen in this light, becomes a fascinating study of the ramifications of God's covenant with Abraham, the father (great ancestor) of many nations.
First, in verse 1, the Scripture says that YHVH "appeared" to Avram. In Hebrew, the word for "appear" is the passive of the verb "to see": that is, YHVH "was seen" by Avram, who then proceeded to dialogue with him. Who is this who can both be seen and speak as YHVH, and as Elohim (God) (v. 3)? There is only one person that can be seen and heard as YHVH, in this way, and that is Yeshua. In all English translations, the first clause is written something like, "As for Me, behold, My covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations." (NASB) This way of translating the phrase can be parsed grammatically as follows: subject= "my covenant"; verb=to be, "is"; and objective="with you." The first two words in Hebrew (literally "Behold I") become a kind of awkward proclamation before the main phrase: "As for Me, behold ..." (Why does God need to preface His speech with "as for me?" "Me" in comparison to someone else?) The trouble here is that there is not, strictly speaking, a common "to be" verb in the Hebrew language, both Biblical and Modern. At least in the present tense the verb to be is implied and not written. In Hebrew I would say "I Ariel" and the hearer would understand that I was saying, "I am Ariel." In the same way, in the first half of verse 4, there is no verb "to be" whose position might help to determine the relationship between subject and verb. There are two possible subjects in the phrase, "I" or "my covenant." And so it could just as easily be read: "I, behold, am my covenant with you." This is a big change in emphasis, and would help to understand why the Scripture emphasizes the word "I" with "behold."
Now, let's imagine the scene again: the pre-incarnate Yeshua, appears visibly (for at least the 2nd time) to Avram, and essentially says, "It is not just that I am making a covenant with you; but I, Myself, will be the essence and fullness of My covenant with you. You are worried about whether you will have a son to inherit and continue your family, but I am promising you that I Myself will become your ultimate Son of Promise. Your offspring, and I Myself, father Avram, will make you to be the Father of many nations ... and thus I give you a new name with the added both of YHVH, "" and of the Hebrew word used here for many, '.'" What honor God has bestowed upon this one man, our Father Abraham! YHVH, the source of all flesh and spirit, submits His very identity to be part of the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and commits Himself to forever honoring and making His earthly Father proud by promising to make His name great and to make him the Father of whole races of peoples, tribes, and tongues!
Understood this way, the brit-am prophecies of Isaiah 42 and 49 take on a whole new meaning: the Messiah incarnate, comes to the people groups of the world with a covenant offer of which He himself is the essence and in effect says: "Find the fullness of your identity, both personal and corporate, in Me and I will make you to be a people descended from My great Father Abraham, and you will thus have the true, holy, and pure ancestral covenant and worship of God." "And," I would add, "this will protect you from the false and dangerous worship, even reverence, of other ancestral figures." Let's return to the 1930s in Japan.
There were a handful of Christian leaders who did not succumb to the Imperial decree, and most of them had something in common: they were disciples of a revival from the 1920s under the leadership of Rev Juuji Nakada, a revival that was characterized by prayer for the restoration of Israel and the 2nd Coming of Yeshua. Many were persecuted and jailed for their declaration of faith. They were resolute: "We have no other divine king but Yeshua, the returning King. We will not bow to a pseudo-divine emperor. We will not engage in this kind of ancestor worship." In other words, they did not subscribe to the foundation of the prevailing replacement theology of the majority of churches at that time. Somehow, their looking forward to the physical restoration of Israel, the promise of all Israel being saved, and the 2nd Coming of Yeshua, protected them from deception and apostasy - although it meant persecution for them.
There are many issues surrounding replacement theology. The experience of the Japanese and Korean churches in the 30s exposes the dangerous effects of the belief that God's promises to a physical and literal Israel are no longer valid, and thus that Yeshua's kingship is only a personal and spiritual one with no ramifications for the kingdoms, governments, and religions of this Age. When we understand the continuing validity of His identity as the Son of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and our partaking of the same covenants, we are protected from the deceptions of all kinds of false Messiahs who have come, and will continue to come, to deceive even "the elect." (Mt 24:24) And, of course, such faith protects us from the wrong kind of adoration of Great Ancestor figures.
After encouraging us by the testimony of so many great "ancestors" of the faith in Hebrews 11, the Scripture says an amazing thing: "And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they should not be made perfect." (Hebrews 11:3-40) East Asian style ancestor worship always leads to a kind of bondage to the nostalgia of a semi-mythical past. Sometimes the "light" of a supposedly glorious past can actually blind us to present glories and future hopes. In contrast, biblical faith, rooted in the full revelation (from the past!) of the crucified Yeshua - Son of David, Son of Abraham - and Him raised from the dead, constantly propels us towards a glorious future.
As the Scripture encourages us with the incredible examples of past heroes of the faith, it teaches us three things: 1) They were great, but not perfect - or "perfected" (because they did not receive the fullness of the promise). 2) Under the constant renewal of the Holy Spirit, every generation of believers is free to embrace the reality that God is preparing revivals of faith and of His glorious deeds that are better than what came before. (This is echoed in the "how much more" language of Rom 11:11-15). 3) The great day is coming when all believers, of every age, will be perfected together as we receive our resurrection bodies! Imagine, we share the same glorious future with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; with Moses, David, Paul/Sha'ul the Apostle, John, etc. etc. It is as if this great "cloud of witnesses" (Hebrews 12:1) is constantly looking to us to carry the baton one step further towards the full coming of Yeshua's Kingdom - so that we can all cross the finish line together!
Also in this issue of the newsletter:
|Daniel Juster: Spiritual Power & Cultural Sensitivity|
|Moshe Morrison: The Riddle|
|Marty Shoub: 24 Years In The Making|