Author: Taylor Abigail
I went to Israel in May and I'm still untangling how it changed me. When we landed back in the States, one of our group members said, "It's like we just time traveled." Our flight from Newark, NJ to Tel Aviv, Israel was ten hours and we were met with a seven-hour time difference. For ten days we were at least one day ahead of the Western world, but centuries behind in history. I went into this trip expecting a spiritual whirlwind experience. However, the trip itself was much more like a crash course in Israeli and Jewish history. I adjusted my mindset in a few days and found that coming home would be the start of the spiritual renewal in me. When you learn things like the name "Mary" doesn't exist in Hebrew and so it's in fact "Miriam" mother of Christ - and that Jesus' Miriam is reminiscent of Aaron's sister Miriam - the Bible becomes a beautiful mystery all over again. And when your eyes see the same sights as Jesus' eyes, this disruptive religion of Christianity takes on new life. Little realizations like Mary's undercover name have the potential to scare us: are there any core doctrines we are translating incorrectly? Is my Bible translation leading me astray? Can I even know God if I don't know Hebrew and haven't seen the landscape?
I rest in the fact that God isn't confined to one language. He speaks in dreams, pictures, visions, through music...etc. I have a Malaysian friend who is fluent in both Malay and English. I asked her if God spoke to her in both or one language. She said both depending on which language got across the idea best. What a sweet avenue into God's heart. I'm learning Sign Language in college...praying for the day that God speaks to me through it.
What's been dancing around in my head the most since I've returned has been the wonder of what it means that believers are now God's temple. I can't relate to temples. I'm not even sure that America has anything remotely close to what the temple was for the Jews. The temples and synagogues were the epicenter of Jewish life because that's where God's presence was (quite literally at some points in history) and that's where the people had to go to connect with God.
In Israel, we visited the Wailing Wall. This wall is considered to be part of an old temple. Jews still congregate there today to pray and cry out before the Lord because that's where God's presence is for them. There's security when you walk in. A wide and sunbleached courtyard stretches far out from the actual wall with dividers standing between the men's side and the women's side. The wall itself is not all that large. But long enough for scores of Jews to press themselves against the massive stones in prayer. All along the wall, there are prayer papers snuggled into the cracks. A little more unromantic was the hundreds of white plastic lawn chairs and women backing away from the wall (it's disrespectful to turn your back on a holy place) and running into the chairs, and little kids romping around.
Here was a startling mix of reverence, normality, and bondage. Eerie music hovered over the atmosphere and I wondered about its meaning. I picked up a prayer paper off of the ground in hopes I could read it and pray for someone. We sat and watched and I prayed. I prayed that the Holy Spirit would make Himself known to each of the women and that God would reveal to them His son, Jesus, as the Messiah.
Many think of the Wailing Wall as sacred and holy unlike any other thing. Maybe I'm missing something, but I walked away thankful that when I don't know how to cry out, the Spirit in me does, and that no matter where my back is facing, God is still before me, beside me, behind me, and within me. If I believed God's presence was only in some holy places, I would pitch a tent and never leave. His presence is the craving of my life.
1 Corinthians 3:16, "Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?" Sometimes we feel distant from God. Could it be because of a weak hold on our identities as temples?
I lose words when I think about what it means that we - our bodies and spirits - are God's home. We are the temple He constructed from the beginning. He is only home and we are only home when we are together. He couldn't be in us for thousands of years after we sinned and the cross cleared the path for the Holy Spirit to come to a joyous homecoming and reunion. God has never been confined by space and time, but He clothed Himself with skin to blow away the sin that kept us from being his home. Still, we are not at our final and eternal home of Heaven. But our souls are eternal and are even now communing with God's Spirit within us.
The miracle of the Cross cannot be thought on enough. Jesus' sacrifice was the gateway for the Holy Spirit to enter us. The shock of the resurrection; the joy of the Father as He sent His Spirit to journey home to our souls are things that I cannot turn my face from. Believers today have never had to experience life without God's Spirit in us. We know little to nothing about the radical and timeless changes that Jesus instated. To be so brash, to be so bold, to be so generous with peace and freedom to dismember religion entirely and to name us His dwelling place probably sounded too good to be true at the time. We can get angry when good things are given to us that we don't really believe we deserve. I wonder if that was part of the problem with the Pharisees' hearts.
2 Peter 2:4 calls believers "living stones." A living stone is any stone that serves a purpose; that has a specific function and job for a building. Stones that aren't used for buildings and that remain part of the landscape are called "dead stones." 2 Peter 2:4 says, "As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him--you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." The thing about living stones is that they all were at one time dead. Choice and chiseling is what made them into living stones. Every stone had to be chiseled perfectly to serve its function well. The more specific the position of the stone, the more the chiseling.
Because we are named living stones, we can expect to be chiseled so that we can fit our specific function and purpose for every season of our lives. Our tour guide made this comment as he taught us about living and dead stones, "That pain is bad is unbiblical." Suffering - chiseling - is the crucible that transforms us from dead stones into living stones. Our guide also said, "There's always meaning in the pain. But meaning doesn't lessen the pain. It's just a guide to handle the pain well and with hope."
We can choose to remain dead stones. We can choose to not live out our identity as God's temple and living stones in His Church. We can choose to see pain as a thing to be avoided and feared. But we grievously cheat ourselves. We leave our souls dirty and unfit for the throne of King Jesus and continue wailing at a wall from which He set us free.
I listened to a sermon this morning by Matt Chandler about work and rest. He talked about the Sabbath and how it is actually a thing that God instated that denies us a spirit of self-reliance and grows in us a spirit of dependence on Him. Ezekiel 20:20, "Keep my Sabbaths holy, that they may be a sign between us. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.” It's a sign to remind us who is God and who is definitely not God. The Sabbath is about identity. Chandler said over and over again, "Step into the privilege of your identity. God's not upset with you for falling short. He doesn't think that way: you do."
A temple isn't a place anymore, it's an identity.
The Sabbath is not a practice anymore, it's an identity.
A living stone is not just an analogy anymore, it's an identity.
Admonitions to take chiseling well, to wonder in amazement and be humbled that we are temples, and to step into our identities as living and not dead stones are not shame-filled requirements. These are privileges that we can take or leave. These are gifts that God gives us to remain under His wing. These are identities that protect us and motivate us. We don't have to become the temple, we already are.
Author: Taylor Abigail
The name of the place we stayed was Yad Hashmona. A beautiful mix between a retreat center, neighborhood, and a theological study hub, Yad stands as a unique gem of Israel. This place was a gift from the Finns. Yad Hashmona means "In memory of the eight." During the Holocaust, Finland gave over eight Jews to the Nazis. Yad Hashmona is a sincere apology, a gift, and a sign of peace. It stands on an Israeli mountain and has a beautiful garden wrapping around the north side.
Arie Bar-David, owner of Yad Hashmona and Tirosh Expeditions (a touring company), was personally chosen to lead the Yad community. Years ago, Arie stumbled upon a small community of Finns living on the site of Yad Hashmona. As they got to know one another, the Finns saw Arie's amazing leadership abilities and wanted him to grow and lead their community. Arie accepted and Yad has since become a powerful tool in the Lord's hand to bring Jews and Gentiles alike to Himself in the land of Israel - through Arie's tours, the Bible translators onsite, and an ever growing community of Messianic Jews. Arie's family is the first Messianic Jewish family in Israel for decades. During my visit, God's deep devotion to the Jews and Israel became more and more apparent. God's provision and faithfulness to the Jews and Israel was made especially real to me at Yad.
As we walked Jerusalem, we watched the Arabs, Armenians, Christians, Jews, and Muslims mix and mingle. Yet, in the city, there are specific "quarters" where each people group tends to gather. Their ethnicities are a dividing wall, yet, Jerusalem serves as an epicenter for many of their faiths. I've heard it said that in the Western world, our question is, "Is there a god?" and in the Eastern world, the question is, "Which god do you serve?" Walking the Israeli soil gave the sharpest proof of this polarization.
The very nation of Israel was born out of God's covenant with Abraham. Throughout history, the Israeli land has been the coveted possession of empires for its blessed and fertile soil. The Jewish people's entire lives have revolved around God the Father and their search for the Messiah. I am certain that had I approached any person there and said, "There is no god," I would've been in the minority. This entire civilization centers around the spiritual; meanwhile, back in the States, some of us wonder if God hears our prayers and if His power is as active today as it was in Bible times.
And this is where it comes closer to home. The Bible stories about how God helped Israel win wars, and how He rescued them from exiles, can easily feel far away and irrelevant. But standing in the country that has a history which is inseparable from God's grace and power, I couldn't continue to believe that God was inactive or uncaring in my own life. The God of Israel is the same God of my heart and in my heart. While it is "ok" to have doubts, it is not ok to stay in them. Doubt is first and foremost out to destroy our faith and it is up to us to find the truth behind the doubt. It is possible to live doubtless. Doubtless that God is good and that He is for our good, doubtless that He is sovereign and trustworthy, and doubtless that He is able to perform the same miracles in my life as He did for the Jews'. There is no condemnation for those who are in doubt, but, there is always more life to be had.
For me, Israel was a final seal of assurance and an incredible inspiration to live for the God who lives in me.
Author: Taylor Abigail
The shade was much needed after a morning of trekking. In Israel, the heat is dry and deceiving - often it is much hotter than you think. We had just explored a replica of a biblical town - complete with houses, wheat fields, and even meandering goats! I was touring all over Israel with a group hungry to learn. Our topic of study was women in the Bible. After walking the town, our guide brought us to the shade and asked us to open to Proverbs 31.
Over the years, Christian women have attached baggage to this particular passage. Whether teaching has abused the text or not, for me, Proverbs 31 is the description of the woman I could never be, yet, the one I am expected to be. My adrenaline began to pump at my guide's request, but I decided to trust him.
Our guide was a 70-year-old Messianic Jew who had lived in Israel all his life. A Hebrew- speaking and Hebrew-Bible-reading man of God, I hoped that he would shed new light on this worn (in my mind) passage. I wanted to find the truth from Proverbs 31. I want to be at peace with all things in The Word. I humbled myself and let the Holy Spirit move as our guide began.
Hebrew reads from right to left. It's reminiscent of chiseling words into stone. The mason would hold the chisel in the left hand, and come down with the hammer in his right hand. This forced the movement across the stone from right to left. The permanence and force with which this language had been recorded for centuries can also be found in the words themselves. Each word is richly nuanced, specific, and poetic.
Line by line from the Hebrew Bible our guide drew out truth, mercy, and grace from Proverbs 31. A concept that is much more present in the Hebrew is the sense of partnership between the husband and wife. But not the partnership we might think of today. In Jewish culture, the men were out studying the Torah, while the women were truly the child-rearers/bearers, and managers of the house. If their husbands were well respected in the city, their homes would be large; filled with many children and servants. Their partnership was much more about the encouragement they gave one another in their respective duties rather than splitting the work evenly. Solomon, the writer of Proverbs, a wealthy king, wrote chapter 31 about the ideal Jewish woman - a woman who from her youth understood that she was (quite literally) going to be the lone queen of her castle while her king waged war and ruled in the city.
As Solomon wrote about this ideal Jewish woman - complete with strong arms and the ability to stay up late AND rise up early day after day - he starts and ends the chapter with the most important things. He begins, "A wife of noble character who can find?" and ends, "Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised." These bookends are timeless. Solomon, king of 1000 women in his palace, knew that the "ideal Jewish woman" whom he described could not be found. But what he did find among the 1000, was that those who feared the Lord - not those who started and owned multiple business, not those who had 10 children, not those who kept every crevice of the palace clean, and not even those who were the most beautiful - but those who feared the Lord - were worthy of praise.
While we tend to teach Proverbs 31 as the way to be a godly Christian woman, the true wisdom and message of Proverbs 31 is that amidst the impossible standards for women, that the fear of the Lord frees us from them all. A woman of wisdom will remember these bookends and cling to them for their freedom. We do not need to be found perfect, we need only fear the Lord.
Like the dry heat, an English translation of a Hebrew Bible can veil the truth. I'm so thankful that I experienced a taste of the fullness of Hebrew. As my guide finished his teaching on the chapter, my anxiety ceased and a new relief washed over me. No longer does this chapter represent standards to be met and surpassed. It now stands to remind me to continually stand in the grace of Christ who has called me worthy by His blood.
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