fruitage of the spirit's journal

Expressions from the Heart

Spiritualizing Israel

Spiritualizing Israel by Julie McAllen

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.” 20 Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ. (Matt 16:13-20)

Peter was blessed, not because of his heritage as a Jew, but because he understood the foundation of a relationship with God is built upon wisdom and revelation from heaven and profession of Jesus Christ. Peter wasn’t handed any literal “keys” but was now being trusted to unlock mysteries in the Old Testament previously hidden from his sight. The flood of understanding given to Peter was the unveiling of the spiritual realities hidden in the new covenant. Upon receiving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Peter was given revelation to connect Joel’s last days prophecy with his present awakening (Acts 2:16-17; Joel 2:28-32). Those gathered in the upper room were being prepared for the end of the system under which they lived. Their challenge would be to share the good news of a spiritual kingdom to those who remained veiled under a very literal, old law covenant. What the literal eye and ear had not seen or heard had just been revealed to the church by SPIRIT (1 Co 2:7-10). God had used the old covenant with its physical attributes to tutor these Israelites into Christ and His spiritual kingdom so that they might become teachers to their fellow Israelites first and then unto Gentiles even down to our day.

As the last days of that old covenant with Israel were coming to her end, Jesus often spoke in parables which at times left them confused. His words are rich in symbolic language to describe His kingdom. He calls His follower’s sheep, Himself a shepherd, a rock, and the bread of life. He likens the kingdom to hidden treasure, a pearl, and a mustard seed. He even describes His love and pain for Jerusalem as a hen gathering her brood under her wings (Matt 23:37). I don’t think He meant to sound like a literal chicken. After their baptism in the Holy Spirit the disciples more fully understood the spiritual significance of His illustrations. Take for example the fig tree which Jesus had condemned in Matthew 21:18-22. If Jesus used a literal fig tree to symbolize ancient Israel for those already familiar with Him as the seed and true Israel of God (Hosea 11:1; Matt 2:15), is it that far a stretch to suggest they accepted the promise in Micah 4:4 of each one “sitting under their own fig tree” as a symbol of peace made possible to those under Christ, the prince of peace? Or were they out looking for the perfect tree to sit under? They came to understand that under the new covenant, Christ restores a relationship with YHWH, not through a religion based on the old law covenant but as a new creation in Christ Himself. Though first century disciples of Jesus lived under harsh conditions, those “in Christ” knew the peace of God which surpasses understanding. They also understood their trialsome earthly lives were not the final destination as they focused on treasures in heaven and looked forward to citizenship there with Christ. As Jesus warned, they would always have the poor with them, but under the law of love, they were reaching out to the widows and orphans unlike the religious leaders still looking for their Messiah’s arrival according to their own acceptable signs while missing the kingdom in their midst.

Some today are expecting very literal fulfillments of prophecy and have criticized interpretations that “spiritualize Israel,” but even the Ryrie’s Study Bible commentary agrees that “the curse on the tree is an illustration of the rejection of Israel, a nation unfruitful despite every advantage.” Is Charles C. Ryrie, Th.D., Ph.D. and dispensationalist spiritualizing the old testament in regards to Israel?

The dispensational view promotes that “Israel always means Israel” and thus throughout the Bible when reference is made to “the Israel of God” the interpretation is given to the ethnic nation of Israel with promises left to be fulfilled in the land of Jerusalem rather than in any allegorical, spiritual sense.  In contrast, the concept of a “spiritual Israel” is the belief among some Christians who assert that the church, or body of Christ, now replaces natural or ethnic Israel as “God’s people.” This is known as replacement theology. Dispensational and replacement theology both agree that the church belongs to God, but one teaches that the church exists within this dispensation of time (the church age) until the completion of God’s timetable of world events of which natural Israel plays a key role, while the other believes the church has replaced Israel. While both dispensationalist and replacement theology respect the covenant God made with His people Israel, one group says the covenant was replaced, while the other says it is still valid, yet “on hold.” And thus, questions arise as to what “Israel” means when referenced in the New Testament. I can understand how this literal system of interpretation by dispensationalists is appealing since it neatly lays out the answers by putting distressing current events in the Middle East into the grander scheme of God’s purposes offering the hopeful expectation of Christ’s return there, but does “Israel always mean Israel?” Did the New Testament writers ever present terms such as “Israel” or “Jew” in any allegorical, symbolic, or spiritual sense? What do you think?

For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God. (Romans 2:28-29)

But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; (Romans 9:6)

I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. (Revelation 2:9)

This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar. Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother. (Gal 4:24-26)

When the apostle Paul wrote about the two covenants in question, he referenced the women who produced Isaac and Ishmael as allegory with Hagar representing the Mosaic Law and Sarah representing “the Abrahamic covenant, the heavenly Jerusalem, the Spirit, and freedom” (Charles Ryrie Study Bible commentary on Gal 4:24-31)

This is not the only place in which Paul used old covenant concepts and introduced their meaning to those born under a new covenant by the spiritual circumcision of the heart. In many other places, Paul replaced the old with the new.

Quoting from Exodus, Leviticus, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Paul says to the church in Corinth they now are the temple in which God dwells (2 Cor 6:16) He further adds that these Gentiles have become “sons and daughters” of their Father YHWH due to this new covenant. The literal temple in Jerusalem was still standing and literal “sons and daughters” that could trace their heritage back to Abraham were among them, yet Paul skillfully connected the Scriptures to encourage these brothers in Christ about spiritual realities that were now theirs under the new covenant. Earlier in the letter Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the surpassing glory of that new covenant over the first one that had been established through Moses and the natural sons of Israel.

Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God, 6 who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

7 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, 8 how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory? 9 For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory. 10 For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.

12 Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech, 13 and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away. 14 But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ. 15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart; 16 but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:4-18)

Paul was an Israelite with an unveiled face. Though as a circumcised Hebrew brought up under Law, he persecuted the Spirit-born church, God saw fit to “unveil” his eyes on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). God filled Paul with His Holy Spirit and then used him to connect the shadows presented in the Law and bring them to light in Christ. Did Paul “spiritualize” the Scriptures? Significantly so!

What is circumcision? (Ro 2:28-29; Phil 3:3)

Who are Sarah and Hagar, Isaac and Ishmael? (Gal 4:21-31)

Where is God’s temple? (1 Cor 3:16; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16)

What kind of armor do we put on? (Eph 6:10-18)

And of what nature are our weapons? (2 Cor 10:3-4)

Was it just Paul or did other New Testament writers ever “spiritualize” literal Old Testament references?

Zacharias, being a righteous priest in the sight of God, would have been very familiar with Malachi’s prophecy. That is why when the angel Gabriel appeared informing him about Elizabeth’s pregnancy, he quoted from Malachi,

“Remember the law of Moses My servant, even the statutes and ordinances which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel.

“Behold, I am going to send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and terrible day of the LORD. He will restore the hearts of the fathers to their children and the hearts of the children to their fathers, so that I will not come and smite the land with a curse.” (Mal 4:4-6).

Elijah was the subject of Malachi’s prophecy concerning “the coming of the great and terrible day of the Lord” and this is what the angel Gabriel is recorded to have said to Zacharias concerning the child that was soon to be born to him.

And he will turn many of the sons of Israel back to the Lord their God. It is he who will go as a forerunner before Him in the spirit and power of Elijah, TO TURN THE HEARTS OF THE FATHERS BACK TO THE CHILDREN, and the disobedient to the attitude of the righteous, so as to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.” (Luke 1:16-17)

The angel Gabriel had just “spiritualized” an Old Testament prophecy and attributed it to Zacharias’ son, John the Baptist, but he was not alone in this. Jesus also spiritualized the Old Testament prophecies concerning Elijah and attributed them to John and Himself.

John was expecting someone fitting the description of what he’d read in Isaiah’s prophecy. He looked forward to the fulfillment of such passages as Isaiah 35:5-8

5 Then the eyes of the blind will be opened
And the ears of the deaf will be unstopped.
6 Then the lame will leap like a deer,
And the tongue of the mute will shout for joy.
For waters will break forth in the wilderness
And streams in the Arabah.
7 The scorched land will become a pool
And the thirsty ground springs of water;
In the haunt of jackals, its resting place,
Grass becomes reeds and rushes.
8 A highway will be there, a roadway,
And it will be called the Highway of Holiness.
The unclean will not travel on it,
But it will be for him who walks that way,
And fools will not wander on it. (Is 35:5-8)

And while in prison John inquired of Jesus, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” (Matt 11:3)

Jesus chose to answer with that familiar passage in Isaiah as proof that He was the expected Messiah within John’s own generation.

Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM. (Matt 11:4-5)

The kingdom of God surely was at hand and Elijah had already come to restore as promised. Are we to expect another? When I read Isaiah 35:8, for example, I read it with my “new covenant eyes,” trusting that by Spirit I have “eyes to see and ears to hear.” Therefore, I’m willing to accept that the highway to Holiness laid in that generation is not a literal road any more than literal horses come out of the sky.

For all the prophets and the Law prophesied until John. And if you are willing to accept it, John himself is Elijah who was to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. (Matt 11:13-15)

Those who were stuck on seeing a more literal fulfillment of the “Elijah to come” missed the spiritual sign, but his disciples shaken by the religious leaders who insisted on literal fulfillments brought their questions directly to Jesus and asked,

“Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?” And He answered and said, “Elijah is coming and will restore all things; but I say to you that Elijah already came, and they did not recognize him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands.” Then the disciples understood that He had spoken to them about John the Baptist. (Matt 17:10-13)

In the last days of Israel’s old law, those who missed the spiritual significance of Elijah also missed the parousia of their King. They remained in the “natural mind” and therefore mocked those who pointed to the resurrection, ascension, and soon return of Christ in judgment against fruitless Israel (2 Tim 3:1-9). Jude 17-19 describes those mockers as “worldly-minded, devoid of Spirit.”

I would not say the danger lies in spiritualizing the scriptures then; to the contrary, it’s in taking them too literal.

Jesus Himself took literal accounts from dealings with Israel and made spiritual application to His listeners. The reaction to His words back then is the same as today. Some took offense, but others were enlightened by the allegory. For example,

48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh.”

52 Then the Jews began to argue with one another, saying, “How can this man give us His flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For My flesh is true food, and My blood is true drink. 56 He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him. 57 As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who eats Me, he also will live because of Me. 58 This is the bread which came down out of heaven; not as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live forever.”

59 These things He said in the synagogue as He taught in Capernaum.

60 Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this said, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” 61 But Jesus, conscious that His disciples grumbled at this, said to them, “Does this cause you to stumble? 62 What then if you see the Son of Man ascending to where He was before? 63 It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were who did not believe, and who it was that would betray Him. 65 And He was saying, “For this reason I have said to you, that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.” 66 As a result of this many of His disciples withdrew and were not walking with Him anymore. 67 So Jesus said to the twelve, “You do not want to go away also, do you?” 68 Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. 69 We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:48-69)

The religious Jews were very accustomed to literal interpretation, but Jesus often spoke in parables. Those who followed Him asked Him directly for the interpretation. Nicodemus secretly went to Jesus and inquired to understand His words of “Spirit and Life.” When Jesus plainly stated, “you must be born again,” this member of the Sanhedrin took it literally. He imagined a man would have to re-enter his mother’s womb in order to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus knew YHWH spoke to His people of earthly things, but as the perfect son of God noted to this Israelite man, “If I told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?” (John 3:12)

It remains an everlasting spiritual kingdom, not part of this world, in which one must be born of Spirit to see, enter, or begin to comprehend. Has anything changed for those who’ve come to the reigning King Jesus Christ throughout any generation? If Jesus, the apostles, Zacharias, John the Baptist, and the angel Gabriel agree that prophecies were fulfilled spiritually in the first century, is it correct for Christians today to “spiritualize” the Old Testament to make it understood to those entering the new covenant?

The literal-minded disciples constant inability to understand Jesus’ claims to be put to death in fulfillment of scripture is evidence that they also had difficulty connecting old testament prophecies to their own critical time. Therefore, Jesus “spiritualized” the Old Testament story of Jonah in the whale to illustrate His coming death, burial and resurrection (Matt 12:38-41) making it applicable to the generation poised to witness it.

From the time Jesus began His earthly ministry, the Jews were in a transition period of living under the darkness of the old law covenant while being transferred into the kingdom of His Son (Col 1:13). Transition periods are often met with confusion and we have the record of that in our Bibles. The immediate hope for those following Jesus was the ending of the old law covenant and a rescue from those persecuting them. God had spoken to their fathers through prophets but now, during the last days of Israel, was speaking through Jesus Christ (Heb 1:1-2). That same letter to the Hebrews proposed that the new covenant, under which they served the High Priest Jesus Christ, would COMPLETELY REPLACE the old covenant.

When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear. (Heb 8:13)

If the first covenant was “becoming obsolete” and “soon to disappear” by the writing of this letter to the Hebrews (64-68 AD) why would God have an agenda to bring it back as if the “church age” were just a hiccup in his plan? Is His plan to restore the kingdom and old covenant in Jerusalem or did it never end? What does “soon to disappear” mean? Is that “soon” to us now or was it “soon” two thousand years ago to the intended audience of that letter?

Peter likened himself and the disciples to “living stones” being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood of which Jesus Christ himself is the chief cornerstone (1 Pe 2:4-10). Was Jesus literally a stone? And was Peter saying that the disciples would be stacked like bricks to form a literal house of prayer? As if to clarify for those still fixed on literal interpretations, Peter clearly states they formed a “spiritual house” as “living stones.” Not only was Peter using symbolic language to describe the new spiritual temple of God, but notice how he also referred to himself and Christ as being in the priesthood! According to Numbers 3:6-10, only those of the tribe of Levi participate in the priesthood. In fact, the New Testament writer of Hebrews restates it for our benefit.

And indeed those who are of the sons of Levi, who receive the priesthood, have a commandment to receive tithes from the people according to the law, that is, from their brethren, though they have come from the loins of Abraham; (Heb 7:5)

Can Peter and the others trace their line to the tribe of Levi? How about Paul? He said he performed “priestly duties” now that he was in the new covenant (Ro 15:16) but he was from the tribe of Benjamin. And what of the High Priest Himself, Jesus Christ? What tribe was He from?

Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron? 12 For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. 13 For He of whom these things are spoken belongs to another tribe, from which no man has officiated at the altar.
14 For it is evident that our Lord arose from Judah, of which tribe Moses spoke nothing concerning priesthood.
(Heb 7:11-14)

By the writing of Hebrews, the priesthood had already changed. “What further need is there” for a restoration of the Levitical priesthood? So why would God be gathering literal Israelites right now to comprise a future 144,000? What would be their function? Furthermore, if they must fit into the twelve tribes of literal Israel outlined in Revelation 7:4-8, is there any man on earth today who fits the description and can trace his blood line back purely to just one of the tribes? The family records having been destroyed in 70 AD make this task “literally” impossible.

If the keys of the kingdom were given to Peter, the highway to Holiness was laid, hearts were circumcised to designate God’s chosen people making their bodies temples in which He would dwell, and Elijah had already come in the first century, then why do some in our 21st generation insist that a remnant is yet to be gathered out of present day Israel?

I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. 2 God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel? 3 “Lord, THEY HAVE KILLED YOUR PROPHETS, THEY HAVE TORN DOWN YOUR ALTARS, AND I ALONE AM LEFT, AND THEY ARE SEEKING MY LIFE.” 4 But what is the divine response to him? “I HAVE KEPT for Myself SEVEN THOUSAND MEN WHO HAVE NOT BOWED THE KNEE TO BAAL.” 5 In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s gracious choice. (Ro 11:1-5 quoting from 1 Kings 19:10-18)

If you received this letter back in the church at Rome when it was written, what would Paul’s use of the term “at the present time” mean to you? Would those reading it in 57-58 AD think Paul was speculating about a remnant yet to be gathered in the 21st century? Or would they take it literally to mean “at the present time?”

Paul was relating that in times past God had kept a faithful remnant among His people despite widespread apostasy. In Paul’s “present time” it was the Spirit-born church who had been taken out of the larger group of the fruitless Israelite nation whose temple was poised to be left desolate. These few in number were the firstfruits to God. Were these literal virgins following a literal Lamb standing on a literal Mount Zion? (Rev 14:1-4) I think it’s safe to admit that there’s a lot of “spiritual” language in the New Testament. According to the words of Christ at John 4:35-38, the harvest had already begun starting with the twelve tribes of Israel (James 1:1, 18). If the remnant referred to a group yet to be gathered in our present time or at a future date, wouldn’t we expect them to be called the “last fruits?”

In conclusion, I am in agreement that there exists a “spiritual Israel.” I do not, however, agree that this remnant is being gathered in our time. I believe it already saw a first century fulfillment for a special purpose when “spiritual Israel” was taken out of “natural Israel” to comprise a symbolic 144,000. The “spiritual remnant” or Israel of God of the first century is a part of the larger Spirit-born church taken out of every tribe and tongue which no man can number and will endure throughout eternity (Rev 7:9; Matt 16:18)

His disciples began questioning Him as to what this parable meant. And He said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is in parables, so that seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand. (Luke 8:9-10)

Keep yourself in God’s love, Julie

May 31, 2012 Posted by | According to Scripture, Expressions | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Who Lights the Incense?

WHO LIGHTS THE INCENSE? By Julie McAllen

INSTRUCTIONS: Remove incense sticks from box. Place stick firmly in a suitable and secure heat and flame resistant holder (not provided). Light tip of stick then blow out flame so tip glows.

I’ve never actually read the instructions on a box of incense before writing them down here; I can usually figure it out on my own just fine thank you very much. I trust that is the case with those who will read this article too.

There are a lot of things we use every day which require no need to consult the manufacturer. And because we take for granted the ease with which it comes to us, we assume others know also and therefore feel no need to explain to them what, how, or why we do what we do.

For example: I burn incense because it smells good, so I light up a stick and position it near me for my pleasure.

Well duh.

I’ve taken the act of burning incense for granted so long that it never occurred to me to read the instructions or write about it. So why am I bothering to do so now? Because I wonder if that is also the case with prayer. After all, no one needs instructions on how to pray, even atheists in foxholes figure that one out without reading any manual. Yet recently I was led to investigate the instructions in the Bible about prayer and how it relates to incense. For the believer who prays regularly, this article may seem…..well…kind of like the idiot instructions on a box of incense. Yet most of us do question at times whether or not God really hears us or how and if He already knows our needs before we bring them to Him why does He ask us to pray? So, it can be to our benefit to read the instructions in the manual and learn more about the mechanics of prayer to increase our confidence in continuing in it.

The essence of prayer is to meet with God. In addressing the topic of prayer, the apostle Paul wrote that he prayed with his mind as well as his spirit (1 Cor 14:14-15). So there is an engagement of both mind and spirit in the act of prayer. The things our minds wrestle with bring us to Him with questions and concerns and in the process He unveils our hearts. The connection to our Creator happens when the intellect is stripped and gives way to the spirit’s prayer. We may leave the prayer closet with unanswered questions but gain the peace of God that surpasses all knowledge (Phil 4:7).

A recent experience in prayer reminded me of this and is the inspiration for this article.

I know God is not a squirrel…. but….

There are days I look very forward to prayer and there are days when I admit, it’s more out of duty or obligation in a rush to get through the list. Other tasks weigh on my mind.

It seems the past few days have had interruptions and distractions keeping me from hearing God’s voice, but I knew today would be quiet so last night I went to bed looking forward to a morning of prayer.

I’m blessed to live on the river with beautiful views surrounding my home. Downstairs I have a favorite spot known as “the prayer chair.” It’s positioned near an east facing window making it a perfect spot to receive the morning sun. Upstairs I have an office with another comfortable chair and floor pillows for kneeling, but since it’s on the west side of the house, it’s not as welcoming in the morning. But this morning beckoned me to the tall east facing windows behind my kitchen table. I tossed the pillows on the floor, peered through the pines and absorbed the creation by watching the sun sparkle on the river below. It’s not hard to begin intercessions when He makes it so easy to come in with thanksgiving and praise.

As the Spirit opened, I found myself receiving a lesson on the struggle between intellect and love, the mind and the heart. I received a wonderful word on incense which I wrote down for another time. As I prayed for others on my list, He relieved my intellect and gave in its place wordless groans (Romans 8:26). I trusted the Spirit’s prayer more than my own and I let it flow. Then the hunger increased, I asked to know Him more intimately, to know He was near. I asked for a touch, a vision, anything.

Just then, I opened my eyes face-to-face with a gray squirrel staring at me through the window. Only a sheet of glass stood between the two feet of space that separated us. I watched him nervously jitter from one end of the window to the other cautiously checking my eyes to see if they followed him. Finally, he was gone, off to gather his provisions. And once again, with humor God reminded me that yes, He was very near. I was allowed this understanding only by remaining still and silent on my knees where I’d be able to meet with Him face-to-face.

I didn’t begin my prayers on January 10, 2012 asking to understand incense. I was actually just going through my usual Tuesday morning list. I came in with my mind and it’s petitions toward God and as I was still before Him, my mind gave way to praying in the Spirit. When it did, I heard a question.

“Who lights the incense?”

And a flood of understanding filled me. Whenever this happens, I scramble for a notebook. This is what I managed to capture.

Prayer is like incense: January 10, 2012

The light from heaven comes. We receive the fire and prayers escape our lips. They ascend to heaven in the smoke of sweet incense. Do not release this until you’re lit with the fire from Him. For He is the one delighting in the aroma of your prayer.

If I want to delight in the smell of a stick of incense, I must first go to it and light it. Then I may enjoy the fragrance it brings to my nostrils.

How pleasant to be assured that what I pray to God has first been given His attention. He walked over to me and lit me. I am praying…..

Prayer is like incense. I’d read verses about that before but they never touched my heart as much as they do now.

May my prayer be counted as incense before You; The lifting up of my hands as the evening offering. (Psalm 141:2)

As I read the verse now, it connects with my experience and a blessed understanding comes to me, ‘my prayers are pleasing to God.’

In Exodus chapter 30, God’s people are given detailed instruction about the altar of incense. The priests of the old covenant ensured that incense was burned before the Lord morning and night. The altar on which this incense was burned was before the curtain that separated the holy place from the Most Holy Place or Holy of Holies in which the mercy seat of God was positioned above the ark of the testimony. The blessing in this arrangement includes “this is where I will meet with you.”

6You shall put this altar in front of the veil that is near the ark of the testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is over the ark of the testimony, where I will meet with you. 7 Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it; he shall burn it every morning when he trims the lamps. 8 When Aaron trims the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense. There shall be perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations. (Exodus 30:6-8)

This is a shadow of the new covenant privilege we have in prayer. The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament reminds Christians of those first covenant arrangements in chapter 9 where the construction of the earthly tabernacle is considered. He describes how the holy place and the Holy of Holies are separated by a veil. Priests were continually entering the outer tabernacle in their worship, but it was only the high priest who could enter the Holy of Holies. He entered with blood offered for himself and the sins of the people. (Heb 9:1-7)

11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things to come, He entered through the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this creation; (Heb 9:11)

When we pray in Jesus’ name, we are recognizing his role as our High Priest and the right given to us as kings and priests under the new covenant arrangement to participate in intercessory prayer.

19 Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way which He inaugurated for us through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Heb 10:19—22)

By the blood of Christ, we enter the holy place. But how is it that we can meet with God who is in the Holy of Holies?

The instructions for the altar of incense in Exodus 30 included placing that incense in front of the curtain separating the holy place from the Holy of Holies. The sacred items of the ark of the covenant and mercy seat of God are in the Holy of Holies as described in Exodus 25:10-22.

What I found interesting in that account were the cherubim at the two ends of the mercy seat.

17 “You shall make a mercy seat of pure gold, two and a half cubits long and one and a half cubits wide. 18 You shall make two cherubim of gold, make them of hammered work at the two ends of the mercy seat. 19 Make one cherub at one end and one cherub at the other end; you shall make the cherubim of one piece with the mercy seat at its two ends. 20 The cherubim shall have their wings spread upward, covering the mercy seat with their wings and facing one another; the faces of the cherubim are to be turned toward the mercy seat. 21 You shall put the mercy seat on top of the ark, and in the ark you shall put the testimony which I will give to you. 22 There I will meet with you; and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim which are upon the ark of the testimony, I will speak to you about all that I will give you in commandment for the sons of Israel. (Exodus 25:17-22).

Cherubim are first mentioned in Genesis 3:22-24 where we learn that their chief role is to guard God’s holiness. Cherubim are also upon the mercy seat of God which is in the Holy of Holies where sin can not enter. What does it mean?

When we enter prayer cleansed by the blood of Jesus, we are standing in a holy place where our prayers are offered to God. Just as Aaron kept the incense burning day and night in the old covenant arrangement, we as new covenant priests having washed our robes in the blood of the Lamb are seen before the throne of God serving Him day and night in His temple (Rev 7:14-15). The revelation continues with a scene in heaven of an angel holding a golden censer, or container, standing at the altar where incense is given to him “so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne.” Picture that scene: we offer prayers, but wait on heaven to release angels bringing incense to mix with our prayers, “and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up to God out of the angel’s hand.” (Rev 8:3-4)

Angels are ministering spirits sent out to render service for the sake of those who inherit salvation (Heb 1:14) Angels were sent even to minister to Jesus (Matt 4:11). They continue to play a vital role in our lives bringing us close to God where we can “meet with Him” as we enter the temple.

That morning I was praying like a priest showing up for duty as I interceded by mindfully going through my list. It was like I was waiting not only for a stick of incense, but the fire to light it as well. As I continued in prayer, a hunger increased to draw near to God. You might say I became aware of the veil separating the holy place from the Holy of Holies. I noticed the transition of praying from my mind to praying in the Spirit. I felt the Presence of God as I gave into it. That is when He asked me, “who lights the incense?”

Jacob had a dream in which he saw angels ascending and descending on a ladder set on the earth reaching into heaven. The experience was so powerful that he exclaimed, “surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.” (Gen 28:10-16) He had met with God through the intercession of angels. I like to think of them now coming down the ladder with empty bowls to fill with my prayers. They take them back up to heaven where God mixes His favorite incense with them.

But why does God need this mixture of prayer and incense? Aren’t my prayers enough? I found an answer to those questions in a book which is rich with the details of God’s holiness and requirements for fellowship with Him.

Sacrificial offerings are the major theme of the book of Leviticus. The grain offering reminded the people of God’s provision of life: daily bread. And they were given instruction as to what kind of bread to offer.

 11 ‘No grain offering, which you bring to the LORD, shall be made with leaven, for you shall not offer up in smoke any leaven or any honey as an offering by fire to the LORD. (Lev 2:11)

Leaven, is often a symbol for sin or the spread of evil according to the writers of the new testament (Matt 16:6, 1 Cor 5:6, Gal 5:9)

Leaven and honey were excluded because they both ferment; however, there was allowance for leavened bread in the offering of firstfruits at Leviticus 23:17. The church, like leavened bread, is composed of sinners. As we begin our prayers, certainly we want to pray in the will of God. But the truth of the matter is, we do not always know if we are. Our sincerity may in fact be tainted with leaven even when we are offering up our petitions and praise in the name of Jesus who is the sinless bread of heaven. Certainly we want our prayers to be pleasing to God, and as sinners we are welcomed to come before the altar even if leaven is present in our prayers, yet can these ascend into the Holy of Holies as the soothing aroma He desires? What can we learn from the shadow set forth in the old covenant?

12 As an offering of first fruits you shall bring them to the LORD, but they shall not ascend for a soothing aroma on the altar. (Lev 2:12)

So the question arises; how did God’s people present their grain offerings to become a soothing aroma to the Lord?

 14 ‘Also if you bring a grain offering of early ripened things to the LORD, you shall bring fresh heads of grain roasted in the fire, grits of new growth, for the grain offering of your early ripened things. 15 You shall then put oil on it and lay incense on it; it is a grain offering. 16 The priest shall offer up in smoke its memorial portion, part of its grits and its oil with all its incense as an offering by fire to the LORD. (Lev 2:14-16)

The offering with oil and frankincense became a soothing aroma to the Lord (Lev 2:1-2).

Throughout the Bible, oil is associated with the anointing of Holy Spirit and symbolizes the very presence of God (Ps 23:5, Acts 10:38, 1 John 2:20) Perhaps praying in the Spirit could be understood as a “leavened” prayer anointed with oil. It’s interesting to note that when James describes a spiritually sick member of the church, he is not instructed to pray himself but rather to call the elders to pray over him. They anoint the sick one with oil in the name of the Lord (James 5:14-16). When weak, we need the help of oil, or Holy Spirit, to pray.

God desires to hear back from the Spirit which He sent to us. Notice how James addresses this,

3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think that the Scripture speaks to no purpose: “He jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us”? (James 4:3-5)

God jealously desires the Spirit which He has made to dwell in us. And so, we are encouraged to pray in the Spirit.

When the disciples were told to wait until the Holy Spirit was sent, they obediently returned to Jerusalem and waited. How? They were “continually in the temple praising God.” (Luke 24:49-53)

Exciting things happen when we wait while praising God.

2 And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance. (Acts 2:2-4)

When our prayers are anointed with the oil of Holy Spirit and mixed with the incense of heaven, they become the smoke of the incense that pleases God because what pleases God is that we pray in His will. Though we may enter prayer with our own ideas, God desires His own will to be done and that is why He sends out angels to light the incense and bring our utterances back to Him as holy prayers. So incense is given into the angels censer and once mixed with our prayers, it’s filled with the fire of the altar and thrown to the earth where effects are seen (Rev. 8:3-5)! These become the prayers offered in God’s will.

14 This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  (1 John 5:14).

Heaven is moved whenever or however we pray, but when we stand in the holy place not knowing what to pray or dutifully go through a list, we may miss the intimacy of meeting with God if we’re not still and wait long enough to be “lit,” because it’s the smoke of the incense that reaches past the curtain to please our Father and send angels into action.

Prayer is an invitation. God beckons us there to instruct us what He has in store, not the other way around. We have absolutely no idea what God intends to do, how can we know the mind of God? How can our lists of prayers instruct Him what to do?

9but just as it is written,

   “THINGS WHICH EYE HAS NOT SEEN AND EAR HAS NOT HEARD, AND which HAVE NOT ENTERED THE HEART OF MAN, ALL THAT GOD HAS PREPARED FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.”

10 For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. 11 For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 13 which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.

14 But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. 15 But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. 16 For WHO HAS KNOWN THE MIND OF THE LORD, THAT HE WILL INSTRUCT HIM? But we have the mind of Christ. (1 Cor 2:9-16)

We don’t know God’s will, and yet, we need a reason to come. So we show up with our lists hoping that He will answer these petitions as we envision them fulfilled, but “hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, with perseverance we wait eagerly for it.” (Ro 8:24-25) There it is again, we wait. As we wait, the oil is poured out and the angels come to light the incense, “In the same way, the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Ro 8:26-27)

Can we pray without knowing all these details? Of course we can, but I realize now what has been occurring all this time: God enjoys incense, not just prayers. Though He is pleased that I’ve showed up with my first fruits as I start to relate to Him the things on my mind with it’s own words, He says, “she is weak and doesn’t know how to pray about this” and the Spirit begins to intercede. I’ve come in the holy place by the blood of Jesus, I’m positioned before the curtain, He is in the Holy of Holies with cherubim on the seat of mercy. Will He direct their attention toward me? Will “tongues of angels” be given to mix with incense so that my intellect no longer has cause to assert it’s own will over the perfect will of God? Angels descend from heaven with incense and then ascend back to heaven with my prayers and the smoke of this is pleasing to God and I sense my prayers becoming holy enough to go beyond the veil and into the Holy of Holies where I may meet Him there.

If you are no longer satisfied with prayers based on things seen and long for depth and intimacy with God, be assured He is delighted when we kindle the flames of our spiritual gifts and seek never to quench it’s fire. (2 Tim 1:6; 1 Thess 5:19-20)

The intimacy in prayer is as two lovers interlocked in a kiss. Solomon expressed the love between a Shulamite and the king with these words, “Draw me after you and let us run together! The king has brought me into his chambers.” (SS 1:4) When she speaks of his kisses they are described as “the kisses of his mouth.” The most satisfying prayers to God are those uttered in the name of Jesus whose words are planted on our lips. The lovers become one as they run together. The prayer of the perfect Son of God is a fragrant prayer, and it affects those around us even as the king’s scented oil caused the maidens to love him (SS 1:3).

Likewise, in relationship to our King Jesus, we take on the fragrance of Christ and are not only pleasing to God but also among those with whom we come into contact (2 Cor 2:15-16-17).

The fact is that if we have been saved by grace, we’ve also been raised up with Christ and are seated with Him in the heavenly places (Eph 2:6). How often do we push beyond the first heaven to meet with Him there? The Lord is seated in heavenly places where a man the apostle Paul describes was “caught up” where he heard “inexpressible words” (2 Cor 12:24). This doesn’t happen in a prayer life comprised only of 10 seconds of grace before your meal or exclamations of “help me Jesus” on an icy road, it happens, oddly enough, when we set prayer as a discipline, even entering it as a mindful and dutiful obligation or habit. An hour set aside for prayer is not to be confused with an act of legalism as if to prove to God our worth based on a record of time spent there. But when we are still before the Lord and wait, it’s a bit like those instructions on a box of incense as we’re “taken out of the box to be lit.”

May we never look at our prayers–or a box of incense–as unimportant again. Make it a habit to be still long enough to wait on the incense from heaven to be mixed as a pleasant fragrance to the One who is on the throne.

And so beloved, “build yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit,” and of course….

Keep yourself in God’s love, (Jude 20-21)

Julie

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January 23, 2012 Posted by | According to Scripture, Expressions, Prayer Requests | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Who Lights the Incense?

Staying Spiritually Alert

Isaiah 38:1-7

 

j0438492Maintaining a state of spiritual alertness may be difficult when we’re faced with challenges, particularly if we were unprepared spiritually or emotionally. Last week’s study revealed how there is a great divide between seeking God’s will and true worship of Him; this week’s lesson shows us how we bridge the gap. To worship God in truth involves knowing God’s heart and remaining in His presence (by keeping alert of our spirituality). Maintaining spiritual alertness requires that we adhere to certain truths about our Lord.  In our study of Hezekiah, we learn that he maintained spiritual alertness, despite the troubles facing him.

 

Staying spiritually alert requires an ever present awareness of the following seven principles revealed in Hezekiah’s life (Outline by Sandy Maddox)

 

1.      Vs 1: In those days Hezekiah became mortally ill. And Isaiah the prophet the son of Amoz came to him and said to him, “Thus sys the LORD, ‘Set your ousein order, for you shall die and not live.’

God Speaks Personally – God spoke “personally” to Hezekiah.  God speaks to us through his word, our friends & family, a pastor giving a sermon; or sometimes He communicates directly to our heart and moves us to action or understanding. The important lesson in this scripture is to hear God’s voice when He is speaking to you.

 

2.      Vs 2: The Hezekiah turned his face to the wall…

Position Yourself – Hezekiah physically moved himself to be in a quiet place with the Lord; after the terrible news, he needed a moment with God. How do we bring ourselves to a moment with God? Is our first reaction to call a family member or friend when we’re faced with a problem? “Turning to the wall” signifies that Hezekiah did not want to call on anyone but his God of salvation.

 

3.      Vs 2: …and prayed to the Lord.

Petition the Lord – Hezekiah went straight to the source where he knew he would find comfort. He appealed to God, seeking Him. He had witnessed God’s mighty hand and knew that He is the only one to deliver him from death that was called upon him.

 

4.      Vs 3: and said, “Remember now, O LORD, I beseech You, how I have waked before You in truth and with a while heart, and have done what is good in Your sight.”

Present your past and your purpose – Hezekiah knew he was a faithful servant. Unlike his father, Ahaz, who didn’t trust in God and sought the help of a nation that God would soon bring judgment upon, Hezekiah only looked to the Lord.

 

5.      Vs 3: And Hezekiah wept bitterly.

Pour out – Hezekiah cried out to God. He had no anger, bitterness or resentment; but he had tears of agony. Hezekiah had just been told he was going to die; he believed it because he believes in God’s promises; he had nothing left to say or do. He already pleaded his case before the great Judge and there was nothing left to do. How many times have we felt defeated in our situations – where there is nothing left we can do but pour ourselves with ourcries.

 

6.      Vs 4&5: Then the word of the LORD came to Isaiah, saying, “Go an say to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the LORD, the god of your father David, “I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; behold, I will add fifteen years to your life.”

Prayers are heard – Although there is no telling how long before God told Isaiah He would add fifteen years to his life, we know that Hezekiah remained faithful and spiritually alert during the difficult time. How long are we willing to wait before we lose faith in our Lord? God hears prayers before they are prayed! Isa 65:24. Knowing this truth about our Lord helps us maintain spiritual alertness.

 

7.      Vs 7: “This shall be the sign to you from the LORD, that he LORD will do this thing that He has spoken.

Promise of His presence provided – God is a keeper of promises. When we know this truth, there is no disconnect between seeking God’s will for us and worshiping Him in truth.

 

*As we model a lifestyle of spiritual alerness, we open ourselves to receiving God’s grace, guidance and the ability to discern His perfect will.

 

Thank you, Sandy, for another great lesson! We look forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts on this lesson. Blessings.

March 30, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Discerning God’s Will

Isaiah 29:13-16; 30:1-3, 15-16

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The passages reviewed in class today centered doing the will of God, despite our circumstances. However, as it was brought out today, we can’t know God’s will until we know what it is to worship God. The people of Judah had substituted lip service and empty ritualism for true worship. The disregarded God as Creator and they felt they could handle all circumstances on their own. This is evident by the fact that the people of Judah looked to Egypt for help when they were coming against Assyria. They didn’t consider the God who initially brought them out of that very land! However, judgment would fall on them and they would be put to shame (Isa 30:3). It’s very sad that Judah didn’t acknowledge that their strength relied on “trust and quiet confidence” in the Lord (Isa 30:15). It’s important to know the true worship of God because there is a great disconnect between worship and discerning God’s will.

 

Discerning God’s will begins with true worship (by Sandy Maddox)

a) How would you define true worship? Praise and devotion: coming into God’s presence; acknowledging God as Creator of all things. (Please feel free to add more in your comments).

 

The 7 conditions of worship:

  1. Reverence – allows us to focus on the holiness of God (Isa 6:1)
  2. Relationship – to experience an intimate presence
  3. Repentance – a turning away form sin and turning to Him with a clean heart and willing spirit (Isa 6:5, 8)
  4. Responsibilty – to commit your life to serving Him (Isa 6:8)
  5. Resources – God will supply all of your needs according to His riches in glory. His provisions are abundant (Phil 4:19; Isa 58:11)
  6. Recognize Rebellion – anything less than complete submission, trust and obedience to the total will of God is rebellion (Isa 30:1,2)
  7. Reward – God will bless us with joy, peach, fulfillment, purpose and eternal life (Isa 30:15)

Personal Evaluation:

I seek God’s direction…

a) Daily, for every decision I make whether large or small

b) Sometimes, if I have time for a daily devotion with the Lord

c) Only for the really big, important decisions I have to make

d) I seldom give it any thought

 

This I know…

1)      I can discern the Lord’s will by worshiping Him in spirit and truth

2)      I can discern His will by acknowledging Him as my Creator and giving Him priority in my life

3)      I can know His will when I am obedient and ask for His guidance

4)      I can walk in His will when I patiently, consistently and confidently trust Him instead of choosing my own actions that “seem good for me”

 

We’re so thankful to Sandy for a great lesson she taught today. We look forward to hearing your comments. God bless you.

March 22, 2009 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

   

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