Parashat Miketz

God is in control

Two thousand years ago, one wintry day in Jerusalem, a solitary figure walked through the Temple precincts in Shlomo’s Porch. It was the ideal place to be during this time, the marking of Israel’s ‘Independence Day’ as it was then known: Chanukah, the time of the rededication of the Temple after its dreadful desecration by Antiochus. That man was Yeshua Mashichanu. He was asked the question “Are you the Messiah?” – in other words, are you another Maccabee? Will you fight for us as they did?

The Roman occupation of the Land had begun in 63 BCE under Pompey and the region itself was only annexed as Judea by Augustus in 6 CE. This had followed a brief spell of independence from the Seleucid Greeks, won by the now famous Maccabees. But Yeshua, in his answer, refers to sheep… “My sheep know my voice…” Did he miss the point?

I believe Yeshua points to an issue that is not often seen: a failure in leadership leading to a national spiritual blindness. The Prophets said repeatedly that Israel are sheep without a shepherd, their leadership failing to point them to the right path and therefore dying both physically and spiritually. Today, as then, our people are assimilating and walking far from the God of our forefathers. Yeshua in the Temple looked out on a people whose hearts were on the whole far from God, who were busy assimilating into the Roman-Greek values around them.

The failure of national leadership in all this may be something that is not so easily recognised. To see what I mean we have to go back to the ‘glory days’ of the Maccabean revolt. The ‘normal’ people of the Land were the recipients of imperial meddling on a grand scale, intent on Hellenising the nation. Jason, the High Priest (Yehoshua) had a gymnasium constructed in the Temple precincts where male, nude athletes would show their physical prowess.

Ultimately the Temple itself was converted into a venue for the worship of Zeus, and as the Jewish populace began to show dissent, the Greek overlords put in place a set of ‘guidelines’ to enable the Land, and its people, to fully integrate into Greek life:

  1. Shabbat was banned. The Greeks wanted us to forget that there was a Creator God who was higher than nature who had the right to direct His people
  2. High Holy days were banned. In fact there was an imposition of a different, solar based calendar. To change the daily/monthly routine was to move the thought world away from one God to another. The calendar you follow will determine who you follow.
  3. Circumcision was banned. The Greeks saw this as mutilation of a body designed for beauty and pleasure. But to deny circumcision means so much more: it negates the visible sign of the faithfulness of God. Our lives are regulated by the very covenants of God and it is these which were under attack.
  4. Torah study was forbidden. The eternal nature of the Word of God was attacked and denigrated. Once you no longer read the Scriptures you will not know how to walk with Him, so your mind will be filled with other things and they will change your mind bit by bit.

The final straw was when Antiochus demanded that pork be eaten as proof of allegiance and then desecrated the Temple with the abomination of desolation talked about by the Prophet Daniel. Then came the miracle of military victory over the Greek forces led by the few good men of the Maccabees. We should rejoice, no? Maybe. The military overthrow led to the Maccabees installing their own kings and priests. The Hasmonean dynasty tells its own sad story of continued assimilation and cultural acclimatisation to the prevailing winds of Hellenism. We had our Temple back, but not our faith. For a while it seemed that Judaism was to be truly rebuilt, but as the second generation of Hasmonean leaders changed their names from Hebrew back to Greek the priestly life and Temple fell rapidly into corruption. What had been rededicated became once more a place of religious misuse.

We know from Yeshua’s own comments that the Temple was not functioning as it should, far from it. Jewish faith life in the first century was in a dreadful condition, mostly if not totally due to the failure of good leadership, faithful shepherds who would have turned our people to the truth and repentance. That is, until the one Good Shepherd appeared.

How does all this impact upon us today? Has anything changed? We have our Land back, but no Temple. We have a nation that is governed by a democratic mandate on the Greek model and an economy that is run by Western capitalist principles. What is truly scary is Yeshua’s prediction that the abomination of desolation is coming back again. He certainly knew that this prophecy had been fulfilled by Antiochus, so what did He mean?

Yeshua was pointing to a time when another Antiochus would come, a man of Torahlessness as Shaul calls him in 2 Thessalonians, whose nature is to reject the things of God and will see himself as god. The same spirit that brought the cultural suffocation of our people back then is abroad once more. The media and press today are full of anti-faith messages, circumcision is being questioned again, the Torah has been mocked for a long time and is simply not taken seriously anymore by most people, kosher food and meat slaughter is being shaken and now it looks like homosexual marriages are to be allowed in places of worship, places where the Word of God should be exalted. Persecution is coming.

We can see that the same spirit is abroad. Man exalts himself as god, rejects sin and repentance; Antiochus would feel at home in our world today. His cultural values are screaming assimilation to us; integrate and survive! Like the Maccabees before us, we need to respond. But their renewal didn’t go deep enough; the rebuilding of the Temple had one element missing: the Temple never had the indwelling presence of God, the Shekinah was missing. A Judaism without the living presence of God at its heart is at best a man made construct to support Jewish life and continued existence (survival), at worst a tool for bad leaders to exploit for national control.

Such a conflict can only be won if God is at the heart of Judaism again and this is our time to respond and take a stand. Israel has a Shepherd, Yeshua Mashichanu, a good leader under whose instruction we can yet again become the nation of light to testify to the One true God.

One last thought: Yeshua said that during such times as these ‘the love of many will grow cold’. He said this is caused by Torahlessness, and this of course refers to Israel, the nation and people. If WE are not walking according to Torah, we cannot expect the love of God to be strong. We saw it with Antiochus and the Romans who came after; we see it today. Yeshua’s final thought on that theme was ‘those who endure to the end will be saved’. We have to keep going.

What is our calling as the remnant? We must bring our people back to God again and show them that only He can truly shepherd them to peace, only He can provide the rest for their weary souls and the salvation so keenly needed. Let us rise up to be a living testimony to the God of Israel and His salvation.