Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Call into the Wilderness


"I will woo her into the desert. I will make her to dwell in tents again."


Thousands of years ago, Moses left a life of luxury in Egypt and discovered God in the Arabian Desert. Later, he liberated Israel from slavery and brought the Israelites to Mount Horeb where the nation experienced an intimate encounter with God. For a sanctuary of worship, Moses erected a simple tent, called "the tent of meeting." This sanctuary was opened to anyone who sought the Lord (Exodus 33:7). Later, another tent sanctuary was erected that was known as "the Tabernacle." Only priests were allowed inside this Tabernacle. Afterwards, Israel settled in Canaan and built a Temple in Jerusalem. God spoke to the Israelites through the prophets. Scribes wrote down and copied writings that would later be compiled and become the Bible. Later, the written word of God was elevated above the spoken word of prophecy. The Scribes stifled the word of prophecy and finally silenced it (2 Corinthians 3:6). The prophets themselves prophesied that the day would come when there would be a famine, not of bread, nor of water, but of hearing the word of God (Amos 8:11-12). The Psalmist mourned, "Now we no longer see signs. There is no longer any prophet. Nor is there anyone among us who knows how long." (Psalm 74:9). After four hundred years of no word of prophecy, a prophet arose. The prophet emerged, not in the great Temple of Jerusalem but in the desert. This fulfilled the ancient prophecies. Isaiah prophesied that "Justice and Righteousness will come and dwell in the desert, there my people will find a peaceful habitation. Blessed will be those who allow their animals, their donkeys and oxen, to roam freely there."(Isaiah 32:15-20, 55:12-13). (In the Bible, "the wilderness" isn't just a barren or sandy desert. It refers to any land largely devoid of human habitation.) Hosea had spoken this word from the Lord to Israel, "Therefore, behold, I will allure her, I will bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfort to her…She shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, as in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt…in that day I will make a covenant for them with the beasts of the field, with the birds of the air, and with all the living things of the earth. Bow and the sword I will shatter from the earth, to make them lie down safely. I will betroth you to Me forever, yes, I will betroth you to Me in faithfulness, and you shall know the LORD" (Hosea 2:14-20). The word of Yahweh came to Jeremiah speaking to Israel and saying, "I remember you, the kindness of your youth, the love of your betrothal, when you went after me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. Israel was holiness to the Lord (Jeremiah 2:2-3)." Hosea, like Amos before him, describes Israel's journey through the wilderness as a time of spiritual idyll. Israel was then innocent and childlike, knowing nothing of the pagan gods and loyal to Yahweh whose presence was seen during the time of Moses in the pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22). In Hosea 2:16, Yahweh says to his bride, "I am going to lure her and lead her out into the wilderness and speak to her heart…I will betroth you to myself forever, betroth you with integrity and justice with tenderness and love. I will betroth you to myself with faithfulness and you will come to know Yahweh." Jeremiah speaks of the wilderness saying, "I remember the devotion of your youth, how you loved me as a bride, following me in the desert, in a land unsown" (Jeremiahs 2:2-3). Through Hosea the Prophet, Yahweh spoke saying, "I have been Yahweh your God since the land of Egypt. I shall make you dwell in tents again" (Hosea 12:9).


After four hundred years of a famine of prophecy, the voice of God was heard again, not in the temple, but in the wilderness as had been foretold. There was a prophecy that a prophet like Moses would come (Deuteronomy 18:15-22). It was also prophesied that Elijah, who was a wonder-working prophet, would return from heaven and turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of children to their fathers, in order to avert the wrath of God (Malachi 4:5-6). There was a man sent from God. His name was John (John 1:6). John was descended from a priestly family. His father had officiated in the Temple (Luke 1:5-24; 57-80). However, John was raised in the wilderness, away from Jerusalem and its temple. As a child he was taken into the wilderness and there he stayed until he began preaching (Luke 1:80). He never visited a town or lived in a city.

The word of God came unto John the son of Zechariah in the desert. John baptized in the wilderness, and preached the baptism, a total submersion in water, of repentance for the forgiveness of sins (Mark 1:4). This was a baptism of repentance. Repentance preceded the Baptism. The soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by repentance and by righteousness (Josephus "Antiquities of the Jews"18:2-9). Therefore, Baptism was for adults who had come to understand right from wrong. John was preaching a "baptism" for the forgiveness of sins. This Baptism was a full immersion in water. The water was to be "living" or flowing water. It was a washing away of sins. This new baptism represents an end of the animal sacrificial system. No longer would the peoples' sins be washed away by the blood of sacrificed bulls and goats. Now sins are washed away by the water of baptism. (This baptism was a total submersion into water. Jewish people did have in the Torah, the Law of Moses, a concept of ritual cleansing from ceremonial uncleanliness (Leviticus 14:8, 15:9). Purifications and ceremonial washings were often performed before entering the Temple or before participating in Jewish religious festivals. Many large baptismal pools, called Mikvehs, where these Jewish baptizing rituals were performed have been excavated by archeologists. "Baptism," or "Teblu" meaning "immerse" in Aramaic, was performed in a "Mikvah" pool.)

John called all people to repentance. Everyone was called to come before God, individually and equally. God's grace was offered freely. The Baptizer never asked for money. John didn't use money. He lived off the land. He didn't want, use, or need money. John offered forgiveness of sin without having to pay for it by buying an animal for sacrifice or paying for an offering, or giving the half-shekel tax.

Crowds of people went out to him from all the land of Judaea and Jerusalem and were all baptized of him in the river of Jordan, confessing their sins. John was clothed with camel's hair, and with a belt around his waist; and he ate locusts and wild honey (Mark 1:6). John did not eat meat from animals. John preached saying, "Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand (Matthew 3:1)." He was great in the sight of the Lord, and he drank neither wine nor strong drink; and he was filled with the Holy Ghost, even from his mother's womb(Luke 1:15). (John was a Nazarite, like Samuel and Samson before him.) And many of the children of Israel he turned to the Lord their God. And he walked before him in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the just; to make ready a people prepared for the Lord (Luke 1:15-17). He was called the prophet of the Highest because he went before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways; to give knowledge of salvation unto his people by the forgiveness of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the Dayspring from on high has visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:76-79).

John spoke in accordance with the words of the prophets who had come before him, saying, "With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings and calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? No, he has shown you, O man, what is good and what the Lord does require of you, but to do justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:6-8) ." "For Thou, O Lord, dost not desire animal sacrifice, or else I would offer it. Thou dost not delight in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart, thou wilt not despise, O God (Psalm 51:16-17)." "Hear the Word of the Lord, "To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me?" saith the Lord, "I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bulls, or of lamb, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand? No more shall you trample my courts! Bring no more vain oblations! Your hands are covered with blood! Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do well; seek justice, relieve the oppressed, deliver the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, saith the Lord, though your sins are as scarlet, they shall be white as snow, though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool." (Isaiah 1:11-26).

And John the Baptist came into all the country about Jordan, preaching the baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. John commanded the crowds to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God. (Josephus "Antiquities of the Jews"18:2-9) (The baptism ritual preached by John the Baptist was a self-immersion in water in the presence of a witness.) John cried out to the people saying, "Confess your sins! Change your hearts! Immerse yourself."

And the people asked him, saying, "What shall we do then?" He answered and said unto them, "He that has two coats, let him give to him that has none; and he that has food, let him do likewise." Then came also publicans to be immersed, and said unto him, "Rabbi, what shall we do?" And he said unto them, "Exact no more than that which is appointed you." And the soldiers likewise asked of him, saying, "And what shall we do?" And he said unto them, "Do violence to no man, neither accuse any falsely; and be content with your wages." (Luke 3:10-14)

The religious establishment sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to examine and observe him. For the people were in expectation, and all men wondered in their hearts about John, whether he were the Christ, or not (Luke 3:15).

Then he said to the Pharisees and the Sadducees that came forth to observe him, "O generation of vipers, who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and do not say within yourselves, "We are God's Elect because we have Abraham as our father;" for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham. And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: every tree therefore which brings not forth good fruit is chopped down, and cast into the fire (Luke 3:8-9)." Thus says the Lord your God, "Repent or I will expose all of your transgressions and I will put an end to all of your feasts, your new moons, your Sabbaths and all of your sacred assemblies (Hosea 2:10-11)." Change your hearts and come immerse yourself. Be baptized. Thoroughly purify your soul by righteousness."

And the agents from Jerusalem asked him, "Who are you?"  And he confessed, and denied not; but confessed, "I am not the Messiah."  And they asked him, "Then who are you? Are you that prophet like Moses?" And he answered, "No," he said, "I am not." Then said they unto him, "Then, just who are you? We must give a report to them that sent us. What say you of yourself?" He said, "I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord, as was spoken by the prophet Isaiah, "The voice of one crying in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be brought low; and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways shall be made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God."" (Luke 3:4-6, Isaiah 40:3-5, Malachi 3:1-3, John 1:19-23)

And they which were sent from the Jerusalem authorities asked him, and said unto him, "Why do you baptize then, if you aren't that Christ, nor the Prophet?" John answered them, saying, "I baptize with water: but there stands one among you, whom you do not know; it is He, who is coming after me but is to be preferred before me, whose sandal's latchet I am not worthy to unloose." John answered, saying unto them all, "I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I is coming, the latchet of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. He shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Whose winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his barn; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable (John 1:24-27, Matthew 3:1-12)." "Repent! For the Kingdom of God is coming soon." This occurred in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing (John 1:28).

The mother of Jesus, and his brothers said to him, "John the Baptist is baptizing for the forgiveness of sins. Let us go and be baptized by him." ("The Gospel of the Hebrews," Jerome, "Against the Pelagians" 3)

Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee to be baptized by John in the Jordan River. Now when all the people were baptized, Jesus also being baptized was praying, and coming out of the water, Jesus saw heaven open, and the Holy Spirit descending upon him like a dove. Then a voice came from heaven speaking to Jesus and saying, "Thou art my Son. This day I have begotten you. I am well pleased with you." (Psalm 2:7, Acts 13:33, Hebrews 1:5, 5:5) Immediately after this, the Holy Spirit drove Jesus to go into the desert alone, to pray and to fast for forty days. While there He was sorely tempted by Satan and overcame the devil. He also dwelt with the wild animals as did Adam long ago. Angels came and ministered to him (Mark 1:28).

No comments: