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Rumination #9: Where will the righteous spend eternity? In heaven?

Traditional Christianity has never said anything differently. In most Christians' minds, it has always been about heaven. But does the Bible actually say that? No it does not. Ironically, it is Greek mythology that promotes this notion. Christianity seems to have adopted it as part of the "Hellenization" of the followers of Messiah in the Second Century.

No, the Bible speaks of the righteous spending eternity with Messiah where He is - and He will be King Messiah, ruling in Jerusalem. The righteous will spend eternity dwelling on earth with Messiah. Instead of the righteous going to heaven where G-d is, it is He Who comes and dwells with us on earth. That is what the Bible teaches. How odd that most people don't know that. It is one more pagan thing that we inherited...

And in that day it shall be - that living waters shall flow from Jerusalem, half of them toward the eastern sea and half of them toward the western sea; in both summer and winter it shall occur.  And HaShem shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be "HaShem is One," and His Name One.
Zechariah 14:8-9

Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from G-d, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of G-d is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. G-d Himself will be with them and be their G-d."
Revelation 22:2-3

Although it may not matter to you where you spend eternity - in heaven or on earth - consider this: Your perspective of the Land of Israel, and of city of Jerusalem is affected by this. Which hints as to why traditional Christianity abandoned the biblical perspective and spiritualized the Land, Jerusalem, and the destination of the righteous: for reasons that are not flattering. So the next time the topic of "dying and going to heaven" comes up, remember that the origins of this false teaching are ultimately anti-Semitic. How differently would all the followers of Messiah behave toward Jews and the modern State of Israel if they truly believed that the righteous will spend eternity with Messiah... in Jerusalem, the holy city, the Jewish city?

You see, it really does matter.

Parashat Vayeshev - 'And he dwelt' (Genesis 37:1-40:23)

The name of this week's Scripture portion comes from the first line of 37:1.

Vayeshev Ya'akov b'eretz m'gurei aviv b'eretz K'naan.

Now Jacob dwelt in the land where his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan.

What caught the eye of more than one of the Sages was the contrast of Jacob settling [yashav] and his father Isaac's sojourning [gur]. Was Jacob a settler, and Isaac a stranger, a sojourner? This seems backwards. It was Isaac who never left the Land, and it was Jacob who sojourned and wandered. Who is the stranger, and who is the settler here?

The fact is, we are meant to ask these questions. We are meant to discover the issues of dwelling, and settling in a place - and how we may still be sojourners and strangers at the same time that we are settlers.

This week's parasha has a lot of sojourning in it. It also has accounts of those who dwelt in the Land. Consider the sons of Jacob who appear far too "at home" living among the Canaanites. Consider Joseph, who sojourners in the land of Egypt as a result of being sold into slavery - and how the Land itself seems to become inhospitable to Jacob and his sons because of famine. This is a portion about sojourning and dwelling. It is a portion of strangers, and aliens.

The contrast between dwelling and sojourning has been understood by many to be a contrast between "this life" and the "next" - there is something to that, but unfortunately it has been used to promote a sad Greek fatalism. Maybe you know the words to the old spiritual:

This world is not my home, I'm just a passin' through.
My treasures are laid up, somewhere beyond the blue.
The angels beckon me through heaven's open door,
and I can't feel at home in this world any more.

Some of this kind of thinking comes from misreading the Epistle to the Hebrews. In Hebrews we read of our ancestors:

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore G-d is not ashamed to be called their G-d, for He has prepared a city for them.
Hebrews 11:13-16

We can see that these heroes of faith had a citizenship that was in the Kingdom of Messiah. They were indeed strangers and sojourners on this earth. Where we would be remiss, however, is to assume that since they were sojourners, that they were merely temporarily here. Therein lies a significance in this parasha's name. This week's portion has profound Messianic significance - and can help us to understand our relationship to the world around us: A world that is yet groaning for the revelation of those who are sojourners within it.

Jacob sought to settle and dwell in the Land that HaShem promised to him, his father, and his grandfather as an inheritance to dwell within. Jacob was supposed to settle and dwell in the Promised Land. Jacob also needed to learn something, and we need to learn something from him. He was also to sojourn. Immediately after we are told that Jacob settled and dwelt in the Land of Promise, he is presented with the most awful of circumstances and calamities - the apparent death of his son Joseph. Jacob's  reaction to these circumstances is shown to us in contrast to the reaction of Joseph to the calamity of being sold into slavery in a foreign land. As we will learn, Joseph the sojourner and stranger in Egypt will rise to become the ultimate "settler" - a ruler. Whereas Jacob spends the intervening years simply waiting to die - as if this life was not worthy of living. In that fatalism, Jacob was not dwelling in the Land as HaShem wanted him to.

Go back to Hebrews 11 for a moment. If you will pay attention to this passage you will learn something about dwelling and sojourning. Even though these great men and women were strangers and aliens in this world - they lived lives full of action. Not content to simply wait, they acted like citizens of the Kingdom of Messiah - here, in this life, in this world.

Joseph gives us this perspective: how to dwell in this world, as a sojourner. A citizen of the Kingdom of Messiah does not arrive in that Kingdom and in that moment start acting like a servant of the Master.... they begin now.

Beloved, are you dwelling here as a sojourner? Are you dwelling here as a citizen of this world - with a king other than King Messiah? Or just as bad, are you simply spinning your wheels, waiting for the next world?

Haftarat Vayeishev  - 'And he dwelt' (Amos 2:6-3:8)

Within this week's Torah portion is also found a sad and disturbing account of how Judah, a son of the righteous Jacob, further plunged himself into depression and sadness. How poorly he treated his daughter-in-law Tamar. How low he sank in fathering the twins Zerah and Peretz through his widowed daughter-in-law Tamar.

In the midst of your rightful repulsion of what Judah did, remember the end of the story. It was from the line of Peretz that King David was born. It was from the line of Peretz that our Master Yeshua was born. And yes, it does appear the Judah did repent as we see later in Genesis.

As you read this week's haftarah portion remember the end of the story. This reading from the Prophets is tied to this week's Torah portion in several areas. First, there is the first verse of the haftarah, which says,

Thus says HaShem: "For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, because they sell the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of sandals."
Amos 2:6

The ancient Sages considered this to hearken back to what ten of the Twelve Tribes' patriarchs did: they sold the righteous Joseph for silver. As followers of our Righteous Master, Yeshua, we also can identify with this. In a midrashic way, the story of Joseph is a foreshadowing to our Master's rejection by many of the religious leaders of the day; and as Joseph was sold for silver, so was our Master betrayed by "His brothers."

There are other connections as well that give us further insight into the purpose for this week's reading from the Prophets. Amos 2:7 connects to the incestuous sin of Judah:

A man and his father go in to the same girl, to defile My holy Name.
Amos 2:7b

Even though Judah's son Er was dead (and son Onan as well), the union of Judah and Tamar is forbidden (Leviticus 20:12).

Another connection is seen in Amos 2:8 which reminds us that Judah left his ring, his tzitzit (cord), and staff as a pledge to pay Tamar. That pledge would eventually reveal his sin to all, and preserve Tamar's life.

They lie down by every altar on clothes taken in pledge.
Amos 2:8a

So, what is this passage of Amos about? It is about the sins of Israel. Sins that the Almighty says that He must deal with. What a sad and depressing thought. Going back to Amos 2:4, in the verses leading up to our haftarah portion, we read a list of sins that G-d must deal with:

Starting in verse 6 we read another list of sins that must be dealt with.

If that were not enough, G-d then reminds Israel what happened to the previous occupants of the Land when they sinned so grievously:

"Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars, and he was as strong as the oaks; yet I destroyed his fruit above and his roots beneath."
Amos 2:9

Even if that were not enough to convict them, He then reminds them of how He responded in covenant faithfulness to the descendants of the sons of Jacob's descendants:

"Also it was I who brought you up from the land of Egypt, and led you forty years through the wilderness, to possess the land of the Amorite."
Amos 2:10

Then He removes all doubt when He reminds them of their sin in the way that they responded to the men that HaShem sent to convince Israel to repent:

"I raised up some of your sons as prophets, and some of your young men as Nazirites. Is it not so, O you children of Israel?" says HaShem. "But you gave the Nazirites wine to drink, and commanded the prophets saying, 'Do not prophesy!'"
Amos 2:11-12

Alright, that does it! Write these people off. Erase them from "the Book" - these people are no better than the pagans that lived around them. Away with them! Indeed, the next verses certainly sound that way.

"Behold, I am weighed down by you, as a cart full of sheaves is weighed down. Therefore flight shall perish from the swift, the strong shall not strengthen his power, nor shall the mighty deliver himself; he shall not stand who handles the bow, the swift of foot shall not escape, nor shall he who rides a horse deliver himself. The most courageous men of might shall flee naked in that day," says HaShem.
Amos 2:13-16

The finality of G-d's proclamation against Israel is stunning. He continues in chapter 3 with the certainly of doom.

Hear this word that HaShem has spoken against you, O children of Israel, against the whole family which I brought up from the land of Egypt, saying: "You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities."
Amos 3:1-2

Well, there it is. You might think that Israel is no more the apple of His eye. If you think that beloved, you are quite wrong. Notice the purpose clause. G-d tells us why Israel is different from the Amorites. Yes, their sins were much the same. G-d's anger against them was likely worse. And yet, Israel is not the Amorites. The purpose clause says, "You only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities."

Wow! The punishment of Israel for her wickedness was not eternal condemnation. It was because HaShem knew Israel intimately. She was His wayward spouse, and He was not letting her go for any reason. He would punish because of His covenant love. Notice the last two verses of the haftarah portion:

Surely HaShem G-D does nothing, unless He reveals His secret to His servants the prophets. A lion has roared! Who will not fear? HaShem G-D has spoken! Who can but prophesy?
Amos 3:7-8

There is that covenant Name of G-d: HaShem G-D, which in Hebrew is the title "Ad-nai" and the Holy Four-Letter Name. This is the Name He used when making the covenants with Abraham and with David. Beloved, He will keep His love covenant with Israel. Forever.

Have you strayed? Have you sinned grievously in your life? The Almighty knows His own people intimately. The consequences of your sin may even still be felt by you. The Almighty chastens His own people. There is hope. While there is a covenant-keeping G-d, there is always hope. He is the One Who took the plight of Joseph and put him at the pinnacle of power. He is the One Who took the weak and conniving of Joseph's brothers and restored them in humility at Joseph's feet. He is the One Who took the offspring of Judah and Tamar, the evidence of Judah's sin, and brought forth the Righteous Messiah, Yeshua, of the line of David.

He is the One Who will again restore Israel to her place at the head of His table. She is His beloved. He will never let her go.

If you are His, you are His beloved... He will never let you go.

Prayer Focus for Vayeishev  -  'Vidui' [Confession]

After praying the Shemoneh Esrei (also known as the Amidah), as a part of the morning prayer service, the Vidui is prayed. It is the prayer of confession.

Our G-d, and G-d of our forefathers, may our prayer come before You, and do not ignore our supplication for we are not so brazen and obstinate as to say before You, HaShem our G-d, and G-d of our forefathers, that we are righteous and have not sinned - rather, we and our forefathers have sinned.

We have become guilty, we have betrayed, we have robbed, we have spoken slander. We have caused perversion, we have caused wickedness, we have sinned willfully, we have extorted, we have accused falsely. We have given evil counsel, we have been deceitful, we have scorned, we have rebelled, we have provoked, we have turned away, we have been perverse, we have acted wantonly, we have persecuted, we have been obstinate. We have been wicked, we have corrupted, we have been abominable, we have strayed, You have let us go astray.

We have turned away from Your commandments and from Your good laws but to no avail. But You are righteous in all that has come upon us, for You have acted truthfully while we have caused wickedness.

O G-d - You are slow to anger, You are called the Master of Mercy, and You have taught the way of repentance. May You remember this day and every day the greatness of Your mercy and Your [covenant] kindness to the offspring of Your beloved ones. Turn us in mercy for You are the Master of Mercy. With supplication and prayer we approach Your Presence in the manner You made know to the humble one [Moses] in ancient times. Turn back from Your fierce anger as it is written in Your Torah. In the shadow of Your wings may we find shelter and lodging as on the day 'HaShem descended in a cloud' [and appeared to Moses on Sinai]...

HaShem, HaShem, G-d, Compassionate and Gracious, Slow to anger, and Abundant in Kindness and Truth. Preserver of kindness for thousands of generation, Forgiver of iniquity, willful sin, and error, and Who cleanses.

May You forgive our iniquities and our errors and make us Your heritage. Forgive us our Father, for we have erred; pardon us our King, for we have willfully sinned; for You, my L-rd, are good and forgiving and abundantly kind to all who call upon You.
-- ArtScroll Translation


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Rick Spurlock
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