This is Not a Drill

Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit (Luke 12:35).

In the ’70s, shortly after Jerusalem was retaken by the Jews, it seemed the second coming of Christ could happen any moment. It’s what my friends were talking about but it was only a dry run before the real thing.  Now over 40 years have passed and we’re seeing more biblical signs than ever pointing to His return (Russia/Turkey/Iran alliance, upsurge of false prophets/false teachers, turmoil in the Middle East,  emergence of the global economy, unbearable ethnic tensions to list a few) but we hear less talk of His coming than ever.  This time it’s not a drill and many of those who should be watching the signs have been lulled asleep by doubtful teachers who have been isolating Bible passages from context and twisting scriptures to make people believe the Lord’s coming is “imminent” – in other words “there are no signs that will warn us of His coming” according to them. For those who know how to rightly divide the word of God, the testimony of Jesus and the warnings of the prophets say just the opposite.

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I’m convinced the reason for our misunderstandings are two fold: 1.  following men or women and not searching the pure Word of God under the anointing of the Holy Spirit; 2. using flawed methods for interpreting scripture i.e. isolating verses from context to prove a presupposition or “extrapolating” which is to say “reading between the lines” – in other words “making a guess.” The Reformation had recaptured some of the better methods which date back to Jesus and the Apostles but what if we could understand ALL the best methods or at least most of them?  If many of us are right and if this not a drill – if Jesus is indeed coming soon, what if our understanding could become more acute using interpretive methods from the earliest church to get ourselves ready? My own journey for understanding kicked into high gear after a bike ride.

I was out biking on a trail one day and found a strange message scrawled across the back rest of a park bench: “Wake up. Time is running out. Stop playing with yourself.” Comical as it was, this might have been a serious message left behind by someone’s lover – a strong hint – “it’s time we got married” – but who knows? Back then, I was thinking a lot about end time prophesy and the message got translated in my thinking as “Wake up. Time is running out. Trim your lamps.” My Pastor back then, said it brought this Bible passage to his mind:

For this reason it says,
‘Awake, sleeper,
And arise from the dead,
And Christ will shine on you.’
Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of your time, because the days are evil. So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:14-18).

Wake up. Time is running out. Trim your lamps.

In the parable of the virgins,  both the foolish and the prudent had become drowsy and had fallen asleep but eventually the prudent virgins made themselves ready – they had plenty of oil (Holy Spirit) in their vessels and their lamps (souls enlightened with biblical truths) were still burning bright when the Bridegroom came for them (Matthew 25:10).

In the process of my getting ready – when the Holy Spirit began getting me ready with that park bench message – a faithful brother emailed a link to a Jacob Prasch video and that led to a hunger for more understanding in line with the ancient Hebrew methods of Bible interpretation that Jacob was talking about. Those ancient Hebrew rules for Bible study existed long before the Reformation all the way back to the earliest church. But without oil in our vessels, even the best methods of interpretation will not fully prepare us to meet the Bridegroom. We need the Holy Spirit’s guidance in the Word of God, we need to cast aside any sin that hinders us and we need to return to the faith of the fathers. Not the fathers that many think of as the founders of the faith but the real fathers: Jesus (also known as Yeshua) and the Apostles and the earliest pre-Nicene disciples whose writings are still available to us. We need to study the Bible the way THEY studied the Bible. Not by cherry picking select verses and isolating them from their overall context as do the false teachers but by considering ALL the overall context from cover to cover in the Bible. Some call it Midrash. If you’re serious about learning this, start by looking up the following two verses in a good concordance and you’ll learn that the word “treatise” in both verses came from the Hebrew word Midrash (2 Chronicles 13:22; 2 Chronicles 24:27). Not the corrupted form of Midrash that reads things into the Bible by extra-biblical/mystical revelations but true Midrash which is more of an inductive method for drawing truth out of the Bible when practiced under submission to the Holy Spirit. It shouldn’t surprise any serious student of scripture that the “Middot” of seven rules recorded by Hillel the Elder – all seven of them – have to do with reading in context. In fact rule number seven encompasses the previous six rules by stating “explanation obtained by context.” This method which facilitated a truly harmonious and fully contextual biblical understanding for the earliest church is still available. It’s not a secret but at the time of this writing, it’s not easy to find either. Jacob Prasch has posted some valuable insights on Midrash and the earliest church hermeneutics at his Moriel.org website which has been a help to me and if this intro. piques your interest, please read the following summary which originated from www.yashanet.com and has been edited by looking up some of their biblical examples for you. It should also be noted that the following information is not in any way an attempt to bring anyone back “under the law” but rather it is simply a survey of the ancient methods of biblical interpretation used by the earliest pre-Nicene disciples.

Holy Spirit
+ Midrash
+ diligent obedience to God’s Word
= deeper relationship with Yeshua
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THE SEVEN RULES by yashanet.com

“The Seven Rules of Hillel existed long before Rabbi Hillel (60 BCE – 20 CE?), but he was the first to write them down. The rules are so old we see them used in the Tenach (Old Testament).

Rabbis Hillel and Shamai were competitive leading figures in Judaism during the days of Yeshua’s youth. Hillel was known for teaching the Spirit of the Law and Shamai was known for teaching the letter of the Law. Yeshua’s teaching largely followed that of the School of Hillel rather than that of the School of Shamai (an exception being Yeshua agreeing with Shamai regarding divorce in Matthew 19:9).

For example, Yeshua’s famous “golden rule”: Whatever you would that men should do to you, do you even to them, for this is the Torah and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)

This reads very closely with Hillel’s famous statement: What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor that is the whole Torah … (b.Shabbat 31a)

Upon Hillel’s death the mantle of the School of Hillel was passed to his son Simeon. Upon Simon’s death the mantle of the school of Hillel passed to Gamliel. This Gamliel spoke in defense of the early Nazarenes (Acts 5:34-39). He was the teacher of Shaul/Paul (Acts 22:3).

In 2 Tim. 2:15 KJV, Paul speaks of “rightly dividing the word of truth.” What did Paul mean by this? Was he saying that there were right and wrong ways to interpret the scriptures? Did Paul believe there were actual rules to be followed when interpreting (understanding) the Scriptures? Was Paul speaking of the Seven Rules of Hillel?

Paul was certainly taught these rules in the School of Hillel by Hillel’s own grandson Gamliel. When we examine Paul’s writings we will see that they are filled with usages of Hillel’s Seven Rules (several examples appear below). It would appear then that the Seven Rules of Hillel are at least part of what Paul was speaking of when he spoke of “rightly dividing the Word of truth.”

The Seven Rules of Hillel are:

  1. Kal Vahomer (Light and heavy)

The Kal vahomer rule says that what applies in a less important case will certainly apply in a more important case. A kal vahomer argument is often, but not always, signaled by a phrase like “how much more…”

The Rabbinical writers recognize two forms of kal vahomer:

  • kal vahomer meforash – In this form the kal vahomer argument appears explicitly.
  • kal vahomer satum – In which the kal vahomer argument is only implied.

There are several examples of kal vahomer in the Tenach.

For example: “Behold the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth: much more the wicked and the sinner” (Proverbs 11:31).

And: If you have run with footmen and they have wearied you, then how can you contend with horses?” (Jeremiah 12:5a).

Other Tenach examples to look at:

Deuteronomy 31:27 “For I know your rebellion and your stubbornness; behold, while I am still alive with you today, you have been rebellious against the LORD; how much more, then, after my death?”

1 Samuel 23:3 “But David’s men said to him, “Behold, we are afraid here in Judah. How much more then if we go to Keilah against the ranks of the Philistines?”

Jeremiah 12:5b “If you fall down in a land of peace, How will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?”

 

Ezekiel 15:5 “Behold, while it is intact, it is not made into anything. How much less, when the fire has consumed it and it is charred, can it still be made into anything!”

Esther 9:12 “The king said to Queen Esther, “The Jews have killed and destroyed five hundred men and the ten sons of Haman at the citadel in Susa. What then have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces! ….”

 

There are several examples of kal vahomer in the New Testament. Yeshua often uses this form of argument.

For example: “‘If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath, so that the Law of Moses should not be broken, [“how much more” is implied here] are you angry with me because I made a man completely well on the Sabbath?'” (John 7:23).

A more explicit example: “And He said to them, “What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? ‘How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath‘” (Matthew 12:11-12).

 

Other examples of Yeshua’s usage of kal vahomer are:

Matthew 6:26, 30 “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?”

Luke 12:24, 28 “Consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap; they have no storeroom nor barn, and yet God feeds them; how much more valuable you are than the birds!

Matthew 7:11 ” If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!”

Luke 11:13 “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”

Matthew 10:25 ” It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, and the slave like his master. If they have called the head of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign the members of his household!”

John 15:18-20 ” If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. “If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. ”

Matthew 12:11&12 “And He said to them, “What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? “How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.”

John 7:23 “If a man receives circumcision on the Sabbath so that the Law of Moses will not be broken, are you angry with Me because I made an entire man well on the Sabbath?”

Paul especially used kal vahomer. Examples include:

Romans 5:8-9, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. But the free gift is not like the transgression. For if by the transgression of the one the many died, much more did the grace of God and the gift by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abound to the many. For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.”

Romans 11:12 “Now if their transgression is riches for the world and their failure is riches for the Gentiles, how much more will their fulfillment be!” … 24 “For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?”

1 Corinthians 9:11-12 “If we sowed spiritual things in you, is it too much if we reap material things from you? If others share the right over you, do we not more? Nevertheless, we did not use this right, but we endure all things so that we will cause no hindrance to the gospel of Christ.” … 12:21&22 “And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary.”

2 Corinthians 3:7-11 “But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was, how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory.”

Philippians 2:12 “So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling;”

Philemon 1:16 “no longer as a slave, but more than a slave, a beloved brother, especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord.”

Hebrews 2:2-3 “For if the word spoken through angels proved unalterable, and every transgression and disobedience received a just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? After it was at the first spoken through the Lord, it was confirmed to us by those who heard,”  … 9:13-14 “For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” 10:28-29 “Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?” … 12:9 “Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?”  … 25 “See to it that you do not refuse Him who is speaking. For if those did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape who turn away from Him who warns from heaven.”

  1. G’zerah Shavah (Equivalence of expressions)

An analogy is made between two separate texts on the basis of a similar phrase, word or root – i.e., where the same words are applied to two separate cases, it follows that the same considerations apply to both.

Tenakh example: By comparing 1 Samuel 1:11 to Judges 13:5 using the phrase “no razor shall touch his head” we may conclude that Samuel, like Samson, was a Nazarite.

“New Testament” example: In Hebrews 3:6-4:13 Paul compares Psalms 95:7-11 = Hebrews 3:7-11 to Genesis 2:2 = Hebrews 4:4 based on the words “works” and “day”/”today” (“today” in Hebrew is literally “the day”). Paul uses this exegesis to conclude that there will be 6,000 years of this world followed by a 1,000 year Shabbat.

  1. Binyan ab mikathub echad (Building up a “family” from a single text)

A principle is found in several passages: A consideration found in one of them applies to all.

Hebrews 9:11-22 applies “blood” from Exodus 24:8=Hebrews 9:20 to Jeremiah 31:31-34

  1. Binyab ab mishene kethubim (Building up a “family” from two or more texts)

A principle is established by relating two texts together: The principle can then be applied to other passages. i.e:

“You shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in measures of length, of weight, or quantity. Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall you have; I am the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:35-36)

By use of the fourth rule of Hillel we can recognize that the provision of equal weights and measures applies also to how we judge others and their actions.

In Hebrews 1:5-14, Paul cites the following to build a rule that the Messiah is of a higher order than angels:

Psalms 2:7 = Hebrews 1:5

2 Samuel 7:14 = Hebrews 1:5

Deuteronomy 32:43/Psalms 97:7/(Neh. 9:6) = Hebrews 1:6

Psalms 104:4 = Hebrews 1:7

Psalms 45:6-7 = Hebrews 1:8-9

Psalms 102:25-27 = Hebrews 1:10-12

Psalms 110:1 = Hebrews 1:13

Binyan ab mikathub echad and Binyab ab mishene kethubim are especially useful in identifying biblical principles and applying them to real life situations. In this way Scripture is re-contextualized so that it remains relevant for all generations.

  1. Kelal uferat (The general and the particular)

A general principle may be restricted by a particularization of it in another verse – or, conversely, a particular rule may be extended into a general principle. A Tenach example: Genesis 1:27 makes the general statement that God created man. Genesis 2:7, 21 particularizes this by giving the details of the creation of Adam and Chava (Eve). Other examples would be verses detailing how to perform sacrifices or how to keep the feasts. In the Gospels, the principle of divorce being allowed for “uncleanliness,” is particularized to mean for sexual immorality only.

  1. Kayotze bo mimekom akhar (Analogy made from another passage)

Two passages may seem to conflict until compared with a third, which has points of general though not necessarily verbal similarity. Tenach examples:

  • Leviticus 1:1 “out of the tent of meeting” and Exodus 25:22 “from above the ark of the covenant between the cherubim” seem to disagree until we examine Numbers 7:89 where we learn that Moses entered the tent of meeting to hear YHWH speaking from between the cherubim.
  • 1 Chronicles 27:1 explained the numerical disagreement between 2 Samuel 24:9 and 1 Chronicles 21:5.
  • Exodus 19:20 “YHWH came down upon Mount Sinai” seems to disagree with Deuteronomy 4:36, “Out of Heaven He let you hear His voice. “Exodus 20:19 (Exodus 20:22 in some editions) reconciles the two by telling us that God brought the heavens down to the mount and spoke. (m.Sifra 1:7)

An example from Romans: Paul shows that the following Tenach passages SEEM to conflict:

The just shall live by faith (Romans 1:17 = Habakkuk 2:4) with There is none righteous, no, not one … (Romans 3:10 = Psalms 14:1-3= Psalms 53:1-3; Ecclesiastes 7:20). Paul does the same here: [G-d] will render to each one according to his deeds. (Romans 2:6 = Psalms 62:12; Proverbs 24:12) with “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man whom YHWH shall not impute sin.” (Romans 4:7-8 = Psalms 32:1-2)

Paul resolves the apparent conflict by citing Genesis 15:6 (in Romans 4:3, 22): Abraham believed G-d, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. Thus Paul resolves the apparent conflict by showing that under certain circumstances, belief/faith/trust (same word in Hebrew) can act as a substitute for righteousness/being just (same word in Hebrew).

  1. Davar hilmad me’anino(Explanation obtained from context)

The overall context, not just the isolated text must be considered for an accurate exegesis. An example would be Romans 14:1, “I know and am convinced by the Lord Yeshua that nothing is unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean.” Paul is not abrogating the kosher laws, but pointing out to Gentile believers in the congregation at Rome (within his larger context of Romans) that: 1) things are unclean not of themselves but because God said they are unclean, and 2) they must remember the higher principle, that their “freedom to eat what is unclean” is secondary to the salvation of unsaved Jews who are observing their behavior, as they are looking for “Gentiles coming into the faith of Israel” to be acting in an “appropriate manner” as a truth test of Paul’s ministry (and Yeshua’s Messiahship).” – source: yashanet.com

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Conclusion

The earliest church also utilized what was called the “peshat” straightforward simple meaning and “pesher” where the peshat is further illuminated by comparing corresponding texts. Pesher sounds like the post-Reformation “types and shadows” which are also meant to illuminate doctrines that were explicitly stated, but we should beware of mistakes made ever since the earliest Gnostics where mystical meanings are read into the types and shadows in attempts to create new doctrines instead of inquiring into the types and shadows in order to illuminate established doctrines that were “… once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 1:3).

Other interpretive methods worth noting are the nuances of Hebrew wordplay and the mashal/nimshal notably used even before Solomon’s time. The mashal is a parable. It is a story or comparison for the sake of conveying a deeper truth. Nimshal is the deeper truth being hinted at in the story. One example: “As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout [mashal] So is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion [nimshal]” (Proverbs 11:22).

The parables taught by Jesus are elongated mashals.

If we combine these earliest church methods of interpretation with the principles that the Reformation managed to re-capture about a thousand years later e.g. grammatical/historical context, situation in life etc. then the Holy Spirit will have something to work with … if we have ears to hear. I might add as a personal note that antisemitism is a severe hindrance for learning these biblical principles because the Bible is a Jewish book, Jesus was a Jew, the Apostles were Jewish. The first followers of “The Way” were Jews. Some argue that Luke was not Jewish but debates on this are on-going. In closing, it makes sense to learn something of the culture that gave us the Bible if we have a strong desire to understand it better.

Sources:

The main source for this posting is from www.yashanet.com who gave credit to James Trimm, Society for the Advancement of Nazarene Judaism (www.nazarene.net), and Herbert Bateman IV, “Early Jewish Hermeneutics and Hebrews 1:5-13,” chapter 1, 1997, American University Studies, Peter Lang Publishers.

Three part video series “What is Midrash?”

Midrash article by Jacob Prash

Parable of the Virgins video by David Nathan

Water Baptized Forty Years Ago in a Rented Swimming Pool

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About forty years ago, my wife and I were baptized in a rented hotel swimming pool by a pastor we had just met. We did not attend a detailed course on water baptism but the pastor gave us a brief explanation before he dunked us … all we knew was that we saw it in the Bible and we wanted to obey the Bible command to be baptized.

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If the doctrine of water baptism is so simply stated in the Bible, why are there so many opinions on the right way and wrong way to do it and to understand it? The correct answer is in the mind of the Holy One and to whom He will reveal it (John 16:13). One more opinion can’t hurt or more likely it won’t even be noticed :-). After all is said and done, this is just a blog and a blog is a discussion platform where people share their opinions right?

“For anyone who cares about getting it right 
it’s a matter of balance.”

          Water baptism and baptism of the Holy Spirit are continuing themes running in sync through the Bible where believers are daily dying with Christ (Luke 9:23) and daily walking by the Spirit: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25) until redemption where the Spirit filled believer braves one last trial by fire (1 Corinthians 3:15). Water baptism is a command. For instance, the Greek word “baptizo” in Acts 2:38 is in the imperative mood signifying a command which requires a step of obedience from the believer. Thus, water baptism is an essential step of faith and obedience and sometimes the first step of outward obedience for the believer but not an essential step for redemption as illustrated by the thief on the cross. If water baptism was essential for that thief’s redemption Jesus would not have told him that “… today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43).

“A man who knows that he is saved by believing in Christ does not,when he is baptized, lift his baptism into a saving ordinance. In fact, he is the very best protester against that mistake, because he holds that he has no right to be baptized until he is saved.”  ~ Charles Spurgeon

[Updated June 28, 2017. I’m going to leave what I wrote below about the thief on the cross as a reminder to myself and as an object lesson to others of why we need to stay open for the work of the Holy Spirit to correct our theology. While I still believe that people who have received Christ at a deathbed conversion etc. will not be turned away from salvation because they had no chance to be baptized, the thief on the cross is not a good example as I learned by listening to discussions of those better informed that the thief on the cross was still under law.] Hope of redemption for that thief on the cross was an objective truth that became an subjective reality or else Jesus lied when He promised the unbaptized thief “today you will be with me in paradise.” While the story of the thief on the cross is a special circumstance where he did not have the opportunity to go through the process of justification, sanctification and redemption* it somehow validates the process. The thief on the cross had no choice to obey the command to be baptized. What of those who do have a choice but refuse to obey? So it must be the same for anyone who identifies with Christ in His death, burial and resurrection (Galatians 2:20) but has not yet “buried the corpse” so to speak through water baptism. Through the experience of water baptism that “objective truth becomes a subjective reality” – Jacob Prasch. Through water baptism, the believer declares obedience to the One who saves. It becomes a public witness to Jesus and to the world. As Jesus said “I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8 NIV). This public declaration of being metaphorically buried with Christ and rising to new life should be a clearly marked guidepost near the beginning of the believer’s journey by faith. “Baptism is faith in action” – Watchman Nee. It is “… the pledge of a clear conscience toward God” (1Peter 3:21 NIV). One aspect of all this should not be minimized: the Holy Spirit is present at conversion (1 Corinthians 6:11) and He is present at water baptism. For obedient believers, the Holy Spirit will be an ever present help on every step of the remaining journey.

The Holy Spirit parts the waters
and leads into His rest

If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth” (John 14:15-17 NIV).

The Holy Spirit’s role in baptism was illustrated by many biblical types and shadows. For example, when the children of Israel faced an impossible crossing of the Jordan River during flood season, the Spirit of God was indeed present. Just as in Paul’s illustration where they “were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Corinthians 10:2), so the Spirit of God was present at the Jordan crossing. Joshua recognized the Jordan crossing as a Spiritual problem and he did not “quench the spirit” by treating it as a physical problem to be solved by his own strength or the strength of his military men. It is said that the Jordan crossing symbolized a dying to self and entering a new life with promise of rest for the children of Israel. The most important step in this journey was obedience where the people were told to keep their eyes on the ark (keep your eyes on Jesus), follow the ark (Joshua 3:3) and to consecrate themselves: “Then Joshua said to the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do wonders among you” (Joshua 3:5).

For another example, the Apostle Paul explained that “our ancestors were all under the cloud [Spirit of God – Shekinah glory] and they all passed through the sea. “They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1Corinthians 10:1-2 NIV). This is a wonderful example which illuminates the doctrine of water baptism where Paul shows that the Spirit of God is present at the Exodus “water baptism” in both the cloud and by implication in the fire that went before them by night. Matthew reveals a parallel where the Spirit of God was present at the same moment Jesus came up out of the water during his baptism under John’s ministry (Matthew 3:16). Consider also the Holy Spirit outpouring at Pentecost where they “… saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them” (Acts 2:3 NIV). These passages taken in context with similar passages show that the Holy Spirit is present at a true believer’s water baptism. But water baptism is not always present at the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. Some were baptized in water first and baptized in the Spirit afterwards – some were baptized in the Spirit then water afterwards as in the following examples:

  • baptized in water first Acts 19:2, 5, 6;
  • Holy Spirit baptism first in the story of Cornelius Acts 10:47.

It should be obvious from these scriptural examples that water baptism and Holy Spirit baptism were ordained by God but not necessarily in a set order. As Paul writes in Ephesians 4:5 it is “one Lord, one faith, one baptism.”  It is one baptism understood as two aspects of that one baptism. Through water baptism, the obedient believer is baptized into Christ’s death (Romans 6:3) and through the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit, obedient believers are also sanctified into His rest (Hebrews 4:1 / Genesis 2:3) then ultimately redeemed into His presence in heaven (Ephesians 4:30).

Obedience then is the key to success or failure in the believer’s journey. The point of failure today is the same as it was many times for the children of Israel… disobedience. Many believers come out of the baptismal waters and fail to “enter into His rest” through disobedience by not rightly dividing the word of God. For one example, extreme charismatics have neglected the word of God and have given more weight to questionable experiences which have plunged them into unscriptural excesses and lack of self control such as being “drunk in the spirit” where the word of God commands just the opposite: “Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1Peter 5:8 NIV). Likewise, many diligent Bible students are neglecting the Holy Spirit believing the old lie that the Holy Spirit has ceased working since the days of the Apostles. Considering both extremes, it is understandable why some Christians are overly cautious to open themselves up to the working of the Holy Spirit but their reluctance is inexcusable because the very Bible they profess to rest in has given them clear instructions how to invite the Holy Spirit into their lives, how to continue walking by the Spirit and how to avoid quenching or grieving the same Holy Spirit. And the key factors in all these scenarios are once again obedience for receiving and disobedience for quenching or grieving the Holy Spirit. A famous preacher explained that “Satan does not like the Pentecostals but he’s not afraid of them because they neglect the word of God. And Satan does not like the Brethren but he’s not afraid of them because they neglect the Holy Spirit.”

It’s a Matter of Balance

A believer who does not balance diligence in the word of God with diligence to seek the fullness of the Holy Spirit is like an eagle trying to fly on one wing. The enemy of all believers knows this and he will do everything he can to keep those believers flopping around in circles by creating an imbalance between spirituality and the written word of God. But the sight of an eagle soaring on a thermal updraft will strike terror into his enemies. The eagle is at rest and not even flapping his wings – far above dangers and able see where he needs to go in all directions. He is not unlike diligent believers who rest in the word of God and in the working of the Holy Spirit which lifts them above worldly devices.

“Therefore, since the promise of entering His rest still stands, let us be careful that none of you be found to have fallen short of it. For we also have had the good news proclaimed to us, just as they did; but the message they heard was of no value to them, because they did not share the faith of those who obeyed. Now we who have believed enter that rest, just as God said, ‘So I declared an oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ And yet His works have been finished since the creation of the world. For somewhere He has spoken about the seventh day in these words: ‘On the seventh day God rested from all His works. And again in the passage above He says, ‘They shall never enter My rest.’ Therefore since it still remains for some to enter that rest, and since those who formerly had the good news proclaimed to them did not go in because of their disobedience. God set a certain day, calling it ‘Today.’ This He did when a long time later He spoke through David, as in the passage quoted: ‘Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts‘” (Hebrews 4:1-6 NIV).

Faithful believers who walk by the Spirit in balance with God’s word have entered into His rest. Paul affirms this in 1 Corinthians 14 where he corrects disorderly manifestations of the Spirit and teaches correct spiritual behavior. In verse 21 of this chapter, Paul quotes a passage from Isaiah 28:11: “Indeed, He will speak to this people. Through stammering lips and a foreign tongue…” The context of Isaiah 28 is likened to the context of 1Corinthians 14 where Paul rebukes the spiritual lack of self-control of the Corinthians just as Isaiah rebukes the lack of self-control of the prophets and priests. And then there’s the lack of self-control in some present day charismatic groups where self control – a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) – is openly mocked.  Consider the broader context of the verse Paul had paraphrased from Isaiah 28: “Very well then, with foreign lips and strange tongues God will speak to this people. to whom he said, This is the resting place, let the weary rest’; and, ‘This is the place of repose‘ — but they would not listen”  (Isaiah 28:11-12 NIV [emphasis mine]). The corresponding context in both 1Corinthians 14 and Isaiah 28 has to do with “tongues” and it obviously deals with the presence of the Holy Spirit in connection with entering into His rest. Interestingly, Paul’s very next statement after quoting Isaiah shows how spiritual eagerness can result in imbalance when it is not paired with obedience to God’s word. In the following verse after quoting Isaiah, Paul instructs that “Tongues, then, are a sign, not for believers but for unbelievers…” (1Corinthians 14:22). In the face of this truth, mainline Pentecostals still maintain that tongues are a sign that one has been baptized in the Holy Spirit. How is it that “believers” are looking for a sign that was meant for unbelievers?

[Note: I finally got an answer to this question, indirectly, through a teaching video by David Nathan. Please watch this video: Elementary Principles – Part 4 – Doctrines of Baptisms of the Holy Spirit.  He reasons in more detail from scripture that tongues are not necessarily the only evidence of baptism in the Holy Spirit but can be one of the signs along with boldness to witness and prophesy (speaking under the influence of the Holy Spirit, not necessarily “foretelling.” The fruits of the Spirit, says Pastor David, are another thing – you really need to watch the video for more clarity on this. As stated at the beginning of this post, a blog is for opinions. Opinions are open for discussion. My discussion compared to David’s is woefully lacking but let’s not give up on seeking truth as the Holy Spirit reveals it to us in the word of God.]

 

If God’s rest is the result of obeying Christ’s commands, it can also be said that unrest is the result of disobedience.

“… He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 3:11).

The obedient believer is to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18), fully immersed as in Ezekiel’s vision where the water from the temple which symbolizes the Holy Spirit out-poured is up to the knees then is deep enough to swim in. (Ezekiel 47). This seems very pleasant but the element of fire should not be overlooked. Sometimes fire speaks of hell but it also speaks of the believer’s journey where faith is tried in the furnace of affliction: “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ (1Peter 1:7 KJV). So it should be clear that water baptism and the baptism of the Holy Spirit are a continuing theme in the Bible running in parallel where the true believer is daily dying with Christ (Luke 9:23) and daily walking by the Spirit: “If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit” (Galatians 5:25) until redemption where the Spirit filled believer has one last trial by fire (1 Corinthians 3:15).

Romans 6:5 “For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection.”

Conclusion

According to the New Testament record, sincere believers were baptized straightaway in water as soon as they expressed a desire to obey this command. As in the example of the obedient eunuch: “… As they went along the road they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:36). And a further example from the book of Acts: “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did,can he?” (Acts 10:47). In light of these scriptures, how do some churches justify making people wait for the next water baptism course to be taught? This is not to minimize the value of learning the deeper meaning of water baptism but as this study hopes to point out, the response of obedience to the command “be baptized” far outweighs the need for an exhaustive understanding of the event. It follows that obedience to the ordinance of water baptism is an important step in the believer’s life but obedience to the commands to “be filled with the Spirit” and to “walk by the Spirit” is essential for the rest of the journey.

Just as the ordinance of communion can be a reminder of the daily need to feed on the “bread of life” so the ordinance of water baptism can be a reminder of the need to “die to self” daily and daily be immersed in the Holy Spirit. No one fills their belly or fuels their vehicle and expects it to run forever without re-filling. But many believers have a fill and forget mentality where they believe that since they were in-filled by the Holy Spirit at the moment they were saved there’s no more need to seek another filling. If this were true, the many scriptures that admonish believers to “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18) or “do not quench the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19) would lose their meaning. Notwithstanding, the believer who does not seek to be filled with the Holy Spirit is lacking boldness to witness, power to edify the church and to edify themselves (Acts 1:8; 1Corinthians 14:4 & 12; Jude 1:20; Romans 14:19).

It is NOT a matter of spirituality VERSUS rational biblical understanding. For anyone who cares about getting it right – it’s a matter of balance.

Links for Deeper Study

*Justification, sanctification, redemption by Prof. Johan Malan

Jewish understanding of immersion

Jacob Prasch audio on water baptism

Dividing the Priesthood

   “You signed this paper … now you must obey …”

     According to multiple witnesses in the Bible, all who are in Christ are united into a royal priesthood. Should a local church then divide this priesthood of believers by creating a proprietary membership list with obligations, privileges and rights given only to those who are on the list?

Consider the Apostle Peter’s description of priesthood to those scattered in foreign lands “…  who are chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, by the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to obey Jesus Christ and be sprinkled with His blood …” (1 Peter 1:1-2).

If all who are in Christ from “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” constitute His priesthood, the obvious question is – are they to be numbered as members on a man-made census or a God ordained census?

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Peter declared such ones to be ” … a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession … “(1 Peter 2:9). Again starting with John’s letter to the seven churches: ” … and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father—to Him be the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (Revelation 1:6); “Worthy are You to take the book and to break its seals; for You were slain, and purchased for God with Your blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation. ‘You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God; and they will reign upon the earth‘” (Revelation 5:9-10); “Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years” (Revelation 20:6). But for those who will not sign a church membership covenant, these future kings and priests will be excluded from certain rights, obligations and privileges in their local church.

Both sides have valid points in the argument for and against church membership . Some would rightly point out that it is necessary to keep a record for tax receipts etc. and others would say that numbering the people had brought the wrath of God on David’s people (70,000 were killed). Some would argue “but God told Moses to number the people did He not?” Yes, God told Moses to number the young men for war in Numbers chapter one but He also told Moses NOT to number the priesthood (Numbers 1:47-54). The Wycliffe Bible Commentary explains that there were two reasons for taking a census in those days: (1) to assess a tax on the population; (2) to prepare to conscript an army. In Moses’ day, the God-ordained census accomplished both purposes: the young men were to be counted for the purpose of war (Numbers 1:2-3) and for the collection of a “ransom” for the first born of Israel (Numbers 3:44-51). After the numbering of warriors from which the priesthood was excluded, God later told Moses to number the priesthood in order to set apart the priesthood “… to do the service of the tabernacle” (Numbers 3:8). The Bible is clear that a census of God’s people should be initiated by Him and He decides who is to be included and in what category.

All the earth belongs to God, every first born, all first fruits, all the priesthood belong to God. He says they are “Mine.” “… for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel” (Exodus 19:6). God ordained this covenant. Concerning the new covenant that was ordained later, Paul aptly explained in (Romans 11:1-36 and Galatians 3:29 including corresponding context) that all Gentile believers along with believing Israel are grafted in to the same tree as partakers of the new covenant that was prophesied in Jeremiah 31:31. God ordained this new covenant and sealed it with His Holy Spirit in the hearts of every believer who fears the LORD of hosts (Ephesians 1:13-14). “‘They will be Mine,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘on the day that I prepare My own possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his own son who serves him‘” (Malachi 3:16-17).

But in these last days, Satan is working hard through false teachers and misguided leaders to steal what God says is “Mine.” How ironic that the old tactic of “divide and conquer” is already in place for the enemy regarding membership/covenant lists where the royal priesthood of believers has been divided by well-meaning or manipulative leaders who decided that God’s covenant needs a little help. Those who sign that piece of paper have privileges and rights and obligations not given to those who have decided that God’s covenant is good enough and nothing needs to be added to it. “Woe to the rebellious children,” declares the Lord, “Who execute a plan, but not Mine, And make an alliance, but not of My Spirit, In order to add sin to sin …” The context of that excerpt from Isaiah 30:1-5 speaks of God’s children who go to Egypt without consulting Him so they can enjoy the protection of Pharaoh but today the spirit of the message is still valid. Well-meaning leaders might say they are protecting their people with their add-on covenants but who protects their people from abuse when they carry their disciplinary measures too far? A membership/covenant church in Texas recently aired a Youtube video* that went viral where a pastor humbly confessed a list of such disciplinary abuses. He was lauded for his humility but did anyone ask how this abuse was allowed to start? It started with an addition to God’s covenant that they had their people sign so they could later say “you signed this paper so now you have to obey us.” It’s a matter of degrees but how long before these membership/covenant churches degrade into a kind of Calvinist police state where “morality squads” might appear at homes unannounced and where abuses can reach horrendous depths? It is well documented that people who disagreed with Calvin were even tortured and burned at the stake. For those with strong stomachs, read John Calvin’s Geneva by Stephen Hicks, Ph.D as one of many historical essays on this topic.** Present day church leaders do not tend to burn people at the stake but – as stated earlier – it’s a matter of degrees.

It takes an honest leader to ask these questions: “what is the true purpose for a church membership list and was it truly initiated by God?” One can only speculate on King David’s motivation for taking his census but the Bible is clear that God had not told him but rather God in His anger allowed Satan to incite David and David gave in to that temptation (1 Chronicles 21:1; 2 Samuel 24:1). David’s self-will is evident in that “… the king’s word prevailed against Joab and against the commanders of the army” (2 Samuel 24:4). God did not tell him. It was self-will; it was the arm of flesh. David was seemingly abandoning his time tested practice of asking the Lord first before making important decisions. Imagine what the answer could have been if David had inquired of the Lord first about Bathsheba. Naturally, David knew his lust for Bathsheba was wrong so he didn’t ask first. This is a lesson for all those who are blessed with success: David was flushed with recent victories and no doubt emboldened by the prowess of his mighty men. He gave in to the natural tendency of trusting the arm of flesh. How much more tragic is the situation when the arm of flesh is manipulated by the enemy of our souls? So God told Moses to record a census but God did NOT tell David to record a census. In fact David never asked. It is said that God often punishes people BY their sins. If David’s sin was making critical choices without consulting God, then the punishment fits. Without benefit of God’s counsel, the now repentant David was faced with the lonely task of making a critical choice between three devastating sets of punishments (2 Samuel 24:12-14). It would have been better for David and it is better for present day church leaders to ask God first and face the truth regarding motivations. If the motivations include seeking some sort of control over the people of God and to increase the numbers, it would be wise to remember what happened to the numbers in David’s time (70,000 removed from the list).

Again, it takes leaders with godly integrity to ask the question “what are the true motivations for making up a church membership list?” Do the motivations include a form of control over the people where some have voting privileges and others have no say? Do the rules and regulations for church membership result in trusting the arm of flesh rather than trusting in God? Motivations vary from church to church but I would argue that any mechanism of church membership that divides the royal priesthood of believers is a mechanism which could take on a life of its own apart from the will of God where leaders with controlling personalities will exploit certain rules and regulations to lord it over God’s people. When such leaders have elbowed in on the headship of Christ, they are the ones creating divisions and they should only be followed to the extent that they themselves are following Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1 KJV).

And knowing their thoughts Jesus said to them,“ Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand” (Matthew 12:25). In answer to anyone who feels this writer is overplaying the seriousness of dividing the priesthood, note that “kingdom” in the above verse is translated from the original Greek as “of royal power and dignity conferred on Christians in the Messiah’s kingdom.”

Thayer’s Definition for kingdom (basiliah)
“1. royal power, kingship, dominion, rule
a. not to be confused with an actual kingdom but rather the right or authority to rule over a kingdom
b. of the royal power of Jesus as the triumphant Messiah
c. of the royal power and dignity conferred on Christians in the Messiah’s kingdom
2. a kingdom, the territory subject to the rule of a king
3. used in the N.T. to refer to the reign of the Messiah.”

Within the context, Jesus said “any kingdom.” The royal priesthood would have to be included as “any kingdom” if indeed it includes all who are in Christ. If the possibility exists of dividing God’s kingdom, the enemy will no doubt do what he can to exploit that possibility and the divisions already put in place by church membership covenants will make his divide-and-conquer maneuver that much easier.

What is the alternative to church membership covenants for the disciplinary process? I read an excellent blog by a Pastor (if I could find it again, I would link it here) and what he said in response to such a question made such good sense, it should be safe to paraphrase it here. The Pastor wrote “we talk to our people. Someone might get drunk over and over again but if he says ‘I repent,’ we forgive and move on.” He also stated that his people are free to move on – not bound to stay in that church by a paper they had signed. Sounds like a biblical model doesn’t it?

“So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36).

My wife and I felt a physical sense of freedom when we decided never to sign a church membership covenant again. You are free as well to sign or not to sign, but please count the cost.

 

Related links:

Church Covenants are Primarily Legal Protection for the Church.

https://timfall.wordpress.com/2015/05/27/covenant-with-god-not-church/

* Video: humble admission of spiritual abuse.

**John Calvin’s Geneva posted by Stephen Hicks, Ph.D:
http://www.stephenhicks.org/2010/11/27/john-calvins-geneva/