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Haftarah: Vayera

Prophetic Portion to Vayera (And He Appeared)

Genesis 18:1-22:24, 2 Kings 4:1-37

This week’s haftarah portion covers two miraculous accounts performed by the prophet Elisha. Both center around women and their children, which not only relates to the Torah portion, but spiritually to the future and the prophetic realm.[1] Elisha asks each woman:

“What can I do for you?”

Read that again.

Let the question resonate with your spirit.

I wonder how many long to hear those words from the “man of God.” What need, dream, or great desire of yours has not been met? In both the Torah and haftarah portions this week, God meets the needs and desires of women in extraordinary ways. He is FOR you, even when – especially when – things are impossible in the natural world.

I wonder how many tears Sarah, the widow, and the Shunammite shed over their predicaments? I suspect most of their pain was shielded from others with the mask of hard work, determination, and service to others. All three women exude a quiet strength in their narratives. They are not portrayed as women that easily give up or go silently into the night. But even the strongest and stalwart among us FEELS, and deeply so. Real strength doesn’t negate or despise feelings, dreams, and great hope for the future. Such things faith rests upon, and they are good, and lovely, and godly.

Hebrews 11:1-2 (NKJV) Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. 2 For by it the elders obtained a good testimony.

Sarah might have mockingly laughed at the prospect of having a son in her old age (the natural), but that doesn’t mean that she lacked the faith (spiritual) that God would give her this good pleasure. Upon the birth of Isaac, Sarah laughed again, and this time it was in wonderment and jubilation.

Genesis 21:6-7 (TLV) “God has made laughter for me! Everyone who hears will laugh with me.” 7 She also said, “Who would have said to Abraham, ‘Sarah has nursed children’? For I have given birth to a son in his old age!”

I imagine the widow and the Shunammite laughing with Sarah. In fact, I see every Eshet Chayil laughing at the future. Their laughter is not a mockery; it is a rejoicing in the goodness and faithfulness of God. They have trained their eyes to see past the veil of flesh. They know that this world is simply a shadow of the world to come. Though this present age is full of strife, pain, and disappointment, the Word and Promises of Adonai stand firm. They will never pass away. So, right now, in this momentary affliction, they open their mouth with Wisdom, and use their tongue to teach the Torah of Chesed (kindness).

Proverbs 31:25-26 (TLV) Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the days to come. 26 She opens her mouth with wisdom—a lesson (Torah) of kindness is on her tongue.

Abraham and Sarah opened their tent with great hospitality. They welcomed, nourished, and taught so many that is said that they “made souls.” (Gen. 12:5) In other words, they were known for their great chesed, like the Proverbs 31 woman. They taught the world about faith, hope, and the future. They taught us to trust in the promises of God, even though they are not always manifest in our lifetime.

Hebrews 11:8-13 (NKJV) By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. 9 By faith he dwelt in the land of promise as in a foreign country, dwelling in tents with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise; 10 for he waited for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. 11 By faith Sarah herself also received strength to conceive seed, and she bore a child when she was past the age, because she judged Him faithful who had promised. 12 Therefore from one man, and him as good as dead, were born as many as the stars of the sky in multitude—innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore. 13 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.

Abraham was waiting for the city which has foundations, whose builder is God, the New Jerusalem. As sons and daughters of Abraham and Sarah, we await the same. They died in faith, as will many of us. And like them, our Torah of Chesed includes the message that we are strangers and pilgrims on the earth. Look up! His promise will come to pass.

So, how do the widow and the Shunammite proclaim this same truth?

The Widow and the Cruse of Oil

2 Kings 4 begins with a widow of the b’nei nevi’im, or sons of the prophets. Abraham was the first named prophet in the Bible. (Gen. 20:7) Thus, the hint is that she and her sons belong to father Abraham. She is destitute, and a creditor has threatened to take her two sons as slaves to satisfy the debt she and her late husband accrued. According to tradition, the woman is Obadiah’s widow. (Rashi)

Elisha, the man of God, tells her to ask her neighbors for “empty” vessels. Then, very specifically, she and her sons were to shut the door behind them. She poured while her sons brought vessel after vessel to fill from the one cruse of oil she had in the house. People are sometimes compared to vessels in Scripture.[3] An empty vessel is in desperate need of purpose, hope, and the filling of the Holy Spirit. Worse, an empty vessel can imply someone that is dead. This family thought they had nothing, when in fact, they had the oil of anointing, one cruse of oil that could light many, many lamps.

Adonai deeply cares for the widows and the fatherless. Josephus and Rashi comment that this family’s debt was accrued because the late prophet Obadiah had borrowed money to feed the prophets that hid in the cave, and that the creditor was Jehoram the son of Ahab. If this is true, the chesed of Obadiah was great, and Elisha desired that chesed be returned upon Obadiah’s house. Hence, the miracle of oil.

In truth, we all have debt that we cannot pay back. We all have sons and daughters that have inherited the same fate. But we also have hope, even if all we have left is one little vessel of oil. If one finds herself in this this place, it is time to go into the House and shut the door. And then, pour every last drop of oil from your vessel into as many empty vessels as you can find. Oil and anointing is acquired through suffering. Olives must be pressed with a heavy Stone to produce oil. The widow and her son’s suffering turned into precious oil that paid off their debt, and provided sustenance for the future.

A wise virgin knows that Obadiah’s widow has the best oil in town. If you’re feeling sleepy, best get to her house as fast you can. Paying chesed to her will ensure that your vessel is full of golden liquid for the future when the Bridegroom comes calling.

 

The Great Woman from Shunem

The Shunammite’s story echoes Abraham and Sarah’s narrative in several ways.

  • Both were promised a son after showing chesed in the form of hospitality to a messenger of God.
  • Both reacted with astonishment and even a bit of unbelief at this prospect.
  • Both Abraham and the Shunammite’s husband were advanced in years.
  • Both were told that “at this season next year” you will have a son.
  • Both promised sons died (at least figuratively).
  • Both were resurrected (at least figuratively).

Thus, it is easy to see why this prophetic portion was chosen to accompany Vayera. But, this year, as I reread these passages, chesed leaped off the pages of Holy Writ like a neon sign. Adonai has been drawing my attention to chesed since Passover. Chesed is the exact opposite of the traits currently being lauded and paraded in media, social media, and educational institutions. And sadly, the result has been fear, hate, division, mockery, pride, and perverted justice.

Love is growing cold, and this ought not be so – especially if one claims to be a son or daughter of Abraham and Sarah. The father and mother of our faith were KNOWN for their great chesed, as was the Shunammite woman. Chesed is given to everyone – even those that do not deserve it. Especially to those that do not deserve it! Chesed is what woos one to turn back to Adonai. (Jer. 31:3) Chesed is what gives one a spirit of repentance. (Rom. 2:4) Chesed ALWAYS precedes truth and justice in Scripture. If we reverse that pattern, death and chaos reign.

Proverbs 10:12 (NASB) Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all transgressions.

1 Peter 4:8-9 (NASB) Above all, keep fervent (zealous) in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Be hospitable to one another without complaint.

If chesed comes first – if it is the foundation – then, and only then, will one see the pattern conveyed in Vayera in one’s own life. Vayera means, “And He appeared,” a reference to Adonai appearing to Abraham after he was circumcised. It was the “heat of the day.” Likely, Abraham was in great pain and the sun was punishingly hot in the sky. Yet, he arose quickly to serve his guests. The three messengers were not only there to bring the good news that a son would be born to Abraham and Sarah, but to judge Sodom and Gomorrah. God chose to reveal His intentions toward these cities to Abraham.

Have you ever wondered why?

It certainly wasn’t to cause him distress. Or to seek his permission, God forbid. No, the reason God revealed His intentions was because:

Genesis 18:19 (NASB) “For I have chosen him, so that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice, so that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him.”

At first glance, this doesn’t seem to be a great reason to reveal to Abraham that He is going to judge the exceedingly great sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. But, carefully considering the above passage, Abraham and his descendants are to represent Adonai in the earth. They are the ones that keep the Way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice.

If that is the legacy of Abraham, what his response? He pleaded for the innocent, the righteous, within these cities. He didn’t say, “Yeah! Go, take them all out.” (That was Jonah’s response even toward the repentant in Nineveh.) Instead, Abraham showed chesed toward these exceedingly wayward cities. It is highly likely that Adonai was testing the heart of Abraham in this matter. Would he lean toward chesed and mercy, or strict justice?

Abraham passed this test, and as his descendants, so should we. Chesed was the catalyst for not only miraculous births and supernatural provision, but also for resurrection! This demonstrates that acts of kindness are intricately woven into the garments of salvation and the robes of righteousness. They are the essence of the Creator of the Universe. In Jeremiah 3:2, God says, “I am gracious.” That is, chasid, the noun form of chesed. He is chesed!

The Chesed of the Shunammite

The Shunammite woman proves to be a true daughter of Abraham. Stories of women and children are typically prophetic. In this case, where a prophet is directly involved, the prophetic theme is intensified or “doubled.” A match for the prophet that received a double portion of his predecessor’s mantle, Elijah.

Now there came a day when Elisha passed over to Shunem, where there was a prominent woman, and she persuaded him to eat food. And so it was, as often as he passed by, he turned in there to eat food. She said to her husband, “Behold now, I perceive that this is a holy man of God passing by us continually. (2 Kings 4:8-9)

 The place where this great woman lived was called Shunem, meaning double resting place. It was located in Issachar, which implies that the Shunammite was from this tribe or had married a man of Issachar. She told her husband that she knew (ידע – yada) that Elisha was a holy man. She showed him great hospitality by ensuring that he had bread to eat, and by building a resting place for the prophet.

“Please, let us make a little walled upper chamber and let us set a bed for him there, and a table and a chair and a lampstand; and it shall be, when he comes to us, that he can turn in there.” One day he came there and turned in to the upper chamber and rested. Then he said to Gehazi his servant, “Call this Shunammite.” And when he had called her, she stood before him. (2 Kings 4:10-12)

The Shunammite is at the center of the narrative and activity. She is the one that recognizes the need of the prophet, feeds him, and requests a place be built for him. While her husband doesn’t oppose her efforts, and even fulfills her requests, he is content with his passive role in this story. Whether he simply had different gifting or preferred to serve with his hands, we don’t know. He might have had great faith or none at all. Either way, he doesn’t chastise his wife for her boldness, generosity, or more prominent public role. Instead, they work together in the strengths that they have. Thus, when the promise of a son comes, they both are the beneficiaries.

When the boy tragically dies, the Shunammite doesn’t tell her husband. Instead, she places his body on the bed they had made for Elisha, and then shuts the door behind him. This is interesting considering that Elisha told the widow a few verses earlier to do the same while she poured oil into the empty vessels.

2 Kings 4:21 (NASB) She went up and laid him on the bed of the man of God, and shut the door behind him and went out.

The Shunammite asks her husband to give her a servant and a donkey because she is going to see the man of God. This perplexes him and he asks:

“Why will you go to him today? It is neither new moon nor Sabbath.” And she said, “It will be well.” 2 Kings 4:23 (NASB)

The Shunammite had a custom of visiting the man of God on the new moon and the Shabbat, and this day was neither. It is intriguing that it is the woman, and not her husband, that had this custom. If you find yourself in a similar boat, take heart! Keep doing what you know to do as you serve the LORD. Adonai and the man of God recognized her kindnesses and her husband was blessed along with her. May it be so for you as well.

The Shunammite’s husband again fulfilled the request of his wife. She saddled her ass and headed to Mount Carmel. It was obvious to Elisha that she was distressed. When he learns that the boy is near death or dead, he sends Gehazi ahead with his staff to lay on the boy. But, the woman wouldn’t leave him. In fact, she quotes the same words that Elisha spoke to Elijah before the heavenly chariots took him:

2 Kings 4:30 (NASB) The mother of the lad said, “As the LORD lives and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” And he arose and followed her.

The staff failed to awaken the boy, so Gehazi returned to them with this news. When Elisha entered his room, he shut the door behind them both and prayed to the LORD. This is the third time in this chapter that a door is shut behind the people inside.

2 Kings 4:33-35 (NASB) So he entered and shut the door behind them both and prayed to the LORD. 34 And he went up and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth and his eyes on his eyes and his hands on his hands, and he stretched himself on him; and the flesh of the child became warm. 35 Then he returned and walked in the house once back and forth, and went up and stretched himself on him; and the lad sneezed seven times and the lad opened his eyes.

This is a very mystical passage, and there are many ways to analyze it. Since Elisha first prayed, I assume that Adonai told him what to do. He laid on top of the boy, eye to eye, mouth to mouth, hands to hands. It’s almost like a transference of life occurred, which even warmed the flesh of the child. After doing this once more, the lad sneezed seven times and woke up. Sneezes require deep inhalations of breath, and then powerful expulsions through the nose and mouth. This indicates a strong breath of life – emphasized by the number seven as he resurrects to life.

Both the Torah portion and the haftarah close with stories of sons who miraculously resurrect from the dead. While Isaac’s death is implied, the Shunammite’s son is explicit. God’s promises and His chesed prevails – even overcoming the grave! These are glimpses into the world to come, the olam haba, and the future of all of Abraham’s seed.

To conclude, think back to the three instances in the haftarah where a door is being shut behind those with faith. There are a couple of places in the Brit Chadashah that this phrase occurs. One is in the parable of the Ten Virgins. The other is in the message to the church at Philadelphia, the assembly of “brotherly love.” As you review them, notice the correlation with extra vessels of oil, and how the believers in Philadelphia follow the path of Abraham. They keep the Word of the LORD with patient endurance and have not denied His Name. What other connections do you see?

Matthew 25:1-13 (TLV) “Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 For when the foolish ones took their lamps, they took no oil with them. 4 But the wise ones took oil in jars along with their lamps. 5 Now while the bridegroom was taking a long time, they all got drowsy and started falling asleep. 6 But in the middle of the night there was a shout, ‘Look, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!’ 7 Then all those virgins got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 Now the foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil, since our lamps are going out.’ 9 But the wise ones replied, ‘No, there won’t be enough for us and for you. Instead, go to those who sell, and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 But while they were going off to buy, the bridegroom came. And those who were ready went in with him to the wedding feast, and the door was shut. 11 Now later, the other virgins came, saying, ‘Sir, Sir, open up for us!’ 12 But he replied, ‘Amen, I tell you, I do not know you.’ 13 Therefore stay alert, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

Revelation 3:7-13 (TLV) To the angel of Messiah’s community in Philadelphia write: “Thus says the Holy One, the True One, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, and who shuts and no one opens: 8 I know your deeds. Behold, I have set before you an open door that no one is able to shut—because you have little power, but you have kept My word and have not denied My name. 9 Behold, I will cause those of the synagogue of satan—who say they are Jewish and are not, but lie—behold, I will cause them to come and bow down before your feet, so that they acknowledge that I have loved you! 10 Because you have kept My word about patient endurance, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is coming upon the whole world to test those who dwell on the earth. 11 I am coming soon—hold on to what you have, so that no one will take away your crown. 12 The one who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the Temple of My God, and he will never leave it. And on him I will write the name of My God and the name of the city of My God—the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God—and My own new Name. 13 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Ruach is saying to Messiah’s communities.”


[1] Role of Women 

[2] 1 Th. 4:3-6, Rom. 9:21, 2 Cor. 4:7-14, 2 Tim. 2:20-26 

Categories: Torah Portions, Women | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Chodesh Shevat: Taste and See

Ps. 34:8 (NASB) O taste and see that the LORD is good; How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!

The eleventh Hebrew month is called Shevat in Zechariah 1:7. Shevat is a cognate of shevet; meaning branch, rod, scepter, scion, staff, and tribe.[1] In the Land of Israel, Shevat gives the first indicators of spring as the almond trees “wake up” and sprout green buds as a sign of new (resurrected) life. Tu’B’Shevat, the 15th of Shevat, commemorates the New Year for Trees in Jewish tradition. (Read more about that here.)

© Victor Torres | Dreamstime.com

Almond buds and blossoms are also associated with authority. Consider Aaron’s rod that budded and blossomed overnight with fully ripe almonds after Korah’s rebellion and the consequent plague upon the people. (Num.16-17) This sign (oht) revealed that Aaron was YHWH’s chosen high priest, and that he operated in the fullness of the Holy Spirit, as indicated by the fully ripe fruit on his rod. It wasn’t happenstance that the rod or branch of the almond was chosen to display this sign, as almond trees flower and bear fruit earlier than all the other fruit trees in Israel. Therefore, almonds are שָׁקֵד (sheked) in Hebrew; a word that also means to awake or watch (shakad).

Jer. 1:11-12 (NASB) The word of the LORD came to me saying, “What do you see, Jeremiah?” And I said, “I see a rod of an almond tree.” 12 Then the LORD said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over My word to perform it.”

The imagery of wakefulness, resurrection, counsel, correction, and authority are also symbolized in the design of the holy golden menorah. It too, has almond blossoms, buds, and even seven watery-like eyes filled with fiery olive oil. Traditionally, the eleventh month of Shevat merges these themes together with the human faculty of taste and the stomach, i.e. eating.

At first glance, this notion seems a little odd. Haven’t we clearly detected the connections of trees, especially almond trees, with the current season and (spiritual) sight? We could even add light, vision, the Word, and the fullness of the Holy Spirit to these ideas as both the almond tree and the menorah tree represent these concepts beautifully. So why then, do the rabbis suggest that Shevat is associated with taste?

Taste Buds

Contemplating this question led me to do a little research on the tongue and taste buds. The average human tongue is about three inches long with 2,000 to 4,000 taste buds. The tongue is made up of 8 different muscles that intertwine with each other creating a flexible matrix that work independently of the skeleton.

The tongue’s pink and white bumps that are visible to the human eye are called papillae. Each papilla contains 1 to 700 taste buds, depending upon its location on the tongue.[2] Taste buds have ten to fifty sensory cells that are intermittently renewed about every ten days.[3] The arrangement of these cells looks like the bud of a flower; hence, the name “taste buds.”[4]

Taste is some combination of sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami (savory).[5] Contrary to what many were taught in school, all areas of the tongue can detect each of these tastes. Like all of the human senses, taste enables one to discern the world around them. Taste (often along with the sense of smell) is how we discern what we are ingesting. But “eating” doesn’t begin with the tongue and one’s taste buds. We eat with our eyes first. Like Chavah (Eve), the fruit is first pleasing to the eyes before it is deemed good to eat.

Taste and Shevat

Now that the science lesson is over, how does this relate to the month of Shevat? People are often compared to trees in Scripture.[6] Humans have limbs, trunks, and grow roots. People can flourish or wither, and produce fruit. Fruit is an indicator of health and reproduction. Seeds reside inside the fruit, and have the potential to produce a whole new tree. Messiah compares man to trees:

Mat. 7:15-20 (NASB) “Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  16  “You will know them by their fruits. Grapes are not gathered from thorn bushes nor figs from thistles, are they?  17  “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  18  “A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.  19  “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  20  “So then, you will know them by their fruits.

The appearance of the tree is not a good indicator of whether that tree (man) is good or evil. We are to look for proper fruit, as outlined by Paul in Galatians 5.

Gal. 5:22-23 (NASB)  But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness,  23  gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

No matter how appealing the outward appearance is to one’s eyes, human sight, like all senses, can be deceiving. Tasting fruit offers one an additional measure of discernment. What does your tongue tell you? Is the fruit sweet? Sour? Bitter? Salty? Is there a seed inside the fruit?

Taste buds look like a flower bud or blossom under the microscope. Do you think this is a coincidence? These little receptors receive what is ingested and send that signal to the brain as a form of warning or delight. Even if one’s eyes indicate that the fruit is a delight, the taste buds will know whether the fruit is bitter or sweet.

My mother expressed an insightful notion as we were discussing this the other night. She said, “Most people cannot accept the ‘seed’ we offer them because it is encased in a shell (fruit) of bitterness.” Their tongues reject our words and even truth because their senses of discernment are not getting the signals of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Thus, the bitterness is spit out; and with it, the truth we claim to be espousing.

Perhaps the problem isn’t that the fruit is bad, but immature. Young, unripe fruit has a sour taste that can cause intestinal distress. The Torah gives commandments for the appropriate time to consume fruit from trees, but what if trees are people?

Lev. 19:23-25 (NASB) ‘When you enter the land and plant all kinds of trees for food, then you shall count their fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden to you; it shall not be eaten.  24  ‘But in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, an offering of praise to the LORD.  25  ‘In the fifth year you are to eat of its fruit, that its yield may increase for you; I am the LORD your God.

© Igor Dolgov | Dreamstime.com

The Torah further directs one in how to handle fruit trees in a time of war; they are not to be cut down or destroyed. Are we not in a very real and ongoing spiritual battle? Mind the fruit trees, please.

Dt. 20:19-20 (NASB)  “When you besiege a city a long time, to make war against it in order to capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by swinging an axe against them; for you may eat from them, and you shall not cut them down. For is the tree of the field a man, that it should be besieged by you?  20  “Only the trees which you know are not fruit trees you shall destroy and cut down, that you may construct siegeworks against the city that is making war with you until it falls.

Taste and See

Taste and then see the fruit of the trees (people). The Word offers some help for one’s taste buds. Sometimes, these tools of discernment need to be renewed, just as we do. Thankfully, Adonai’s design of the tongue enables it to do just that. Within weeks, one can have a mouth filled with new taste buds that crave the good and not the bad. But even then, some tastes require an extra measure of discernment. Consider the following:

Umami (savory)

An aged Isaac had trouble with his physical sight and his sense of taste. His discernment was off, leaving Rebekah to steer the circumstances back toward the instruction the LORD originally gave while she was pregnant. The older will serve the younger.

Gen. 25:28 (NASB) Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.

Appetites are deceiving and can impair spiritual vision if one is ruled by these mighty impulses. In Isaac’s case, the result was a lack of sight and taste for Adonai’s plan for his younger son Jacob. Savory is a pleasant taste from animal fats and proteins. May that craving not be for wild game, but for the sacrifices of flesh laid upon the holy altar!

Bitter

As soon as Adonai redeemed Israel from the bondage of Egypt and walked them through the baptismal waters of the Reed (Red) Sea, their first stop was Marah, a place of bitterness.

Ex. 15:23-25 (NASB)  When they came to Marah, they could not drink the waters of Marah, for they were bitter; therefore it was named Marah.  24  So the people grumbled at Moses, saying, “What shall we drink?”  25  Then he cried out to the LORD, and the LORD showed him a tree; and he threw it into the waters, and the waters became sweet. There He made for them a statute and regulation, and there He tested them.

Can you imagine experiencing the ten mighty miracles in Egypt, plundering your Egyptian taskmasters, fleeing from Pharaoh and being protected by a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire, walking through the parted Sea of Reeds on dry ground, and then watching as the waters returned, swallowing the enemy and his army? That’s the setting for the bitter waters of Marah. The people grumbled (lun – H3885) at Moses because the water was bitter to their taste buds. It’s hard to imagine, but I wonder if we don’t do this very thing.

God answered by showing Moses “a tree.” What do you suppose this tree was? Or more mystically, WHO was this tree? What or who sweetens the bitter waters? Bitterness is an unpleasant taste that warns the brain to reject (spit out) the substance. The writer of Hebrews reminds believers to pursue peace with all men and sanctification, so that a root of bitterness doesn’t take root in one’s heart that will defile not only the person, but those around them. (Heb. 12:13-15)

Even after salvation and redemption, sanctification is necessary. Failing to submit to this difficult process is akin to allowing bitterness to grow, which defiles the living waters.[7] The Book of Hebrews continues with an admonition to remember the ungodly appetites (tastes) of Esau. We need the counsel of the Tree of Life, the Holy Word, Yeshua the Messiah, to sweeten the waters as He tenderly leads us through the sanctification process.

Drinking bitter waters is also a test. Consider the Sotah, the woman accused of adultery in Numbers 5. She literally drinks a curse as she is bared before the priest. If she is guilty, she will suffer the curse; but if she is innocent, she will not be harmed and will go on to produce holy fruit.

Sweet

In the verses below, YHWH relates the Sabbath and the provision He provides to both sight and taste.

Ex. 16:28-31 (NASB) Then the LORD said to Moses, “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My instructions?  29  “See, the LORD has given you the sabbath; therefore He gives you bread for two days on the sixth day. Remain every man in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.”  30  So the people rested on the seventh day.  31  The house of Israel named it manna, and it was like coriander seed, white, and its taste was like wafers with honey.

Sabbath rest is a holy space in time, a refuge where Adonai provides bread for the whole man. It is like wafers and honey to the taste buds of the one that ingests its wondrous and heavenly flavor. Many are like ancient Israel and cannot fathom how this strange substance has worth. They declare, “What is it?” Eyes alone are deceiving.

Sometimes we confuse sweet and bitter:

Is. 5:20 (NASB) Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

This is because we have been tasting and ingesting the words (seeds/fruit) of the harlot or wicked woman instead of the Holy Spirit of Wisdom.

Pr. 5:3-4 (NASB)  For the lips of an adulteress drip honey And smoother than oil is her speech;  4  But in the end she is bitter as wormwood, Sharp as a two-edged sword.

Our taste buds need time to regenerate and heal to their proper function. This is why fasting is beneficial to both the natural and the spirit man.[8] When the flesh is denied the things that it craves, taste buds have time to renew and desire that which is truly good and helpful to the body and the spirit. Beastly scales fall from the eyes when the spirit rules over the lower nature. That is how one can proclaim with joy and gladness:

Ps. 119:103-104 (NASB) How sweet are Your words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!  104 From Your precepts I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way.

But, there is another side to this coin, a holy mandate, that makes the sweet, bitter. The double-edged sword of the Word of the LORD slices through bone and marrow, soul (nephesh) and spirit, and judgment falls on those things that do not belong and on those that refuse to repent.

Ezek. 3:3,14 (NASB)  He said to me, “Son of man, feed your stomach and fill your body with this scroll which I am giving you.” Then I ate it, and it was sweet as honey in my mouth… So the Spirit lifted me up and took me away; and I went embittered in the rage of my spirit, and the hand of the LORD was strong on me.

Delivering the honey of the Word is a difficult task. One must endure many stings to extract its sweet amber. What is delightfully sweet to the taste buds of the righteous is bitter to the stomach of fleshly appetites and desire. YHWH gave Ezekiel a mission to be a watchman and prophet to rebellious Israel. He endured bitter circumstances to deliver the golden Words of the LORD’s judgment. John’s experience mirrored Ezekiel:

Rev. 10:9-11 (NASB) So I went to the angel, telling him to give me the little book. And he *said to me, “Take it and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.”  10  I took the little book out of the angel’s hand and ate it, and in my mouth it was sweet as honey; and when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter.  11  And they *said to me, “You must prophesy again concerning many peoples and nations and tongues and kings.”

True prophets and prophecy requires dealing with the bitterness of God’s judgment on stinky flesh. The delivery vessel must suffer many tribulations for the sake of righteousness, a process that is very unpleasant to the stomach (appetites and desires of human flesh), but sweet to the taste buds of godly discernment. Only a Holy Spirit filled person could endure this bittersweet calling and mission. David, the anointed king, rejoiced in the judgments of YHWH:

Ps. 19:9-10 (NASB) The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the LORD are true; they are righteous altogether.  10 They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.

If your obedient service to YHWH is bittersweet, rejoice! For He is faithful and true! You are His planting, a mighty oak. Taste and See the liquid gold promises of Messiah:

Is. 61:1-3 (NASB) The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, Because the LORD has anointed me To bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to captives And freedom to prisoners;  2  To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD And the day of vengeance of our God; To comfort all who mourn,  3  To grant those who mourn in Zion, Giving them a garland instead of ashes, The oil of gladness instead of mourning, The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.

Sour

The Hebrew word for sour is related to chametz, leavened grains. Fermented breads in the ancient world were all sour dough types. Most often leavened grains (chametz) are figurative of the small foreign agents multiplying rapidly to puff up a person in pride or other sin. This makes one sour or defiled. Closely linked to this notion is the sense of sight, as one is to be watchful of the kneading bowl and thoroughly inspect the house during the days of Unleavened Bread. As Paul says, just a little leaven will infect the whole lump of dough![9]

1Cor. 5:7-8 (NASB)  Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ our Passover also has been sacrificed.  8  Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

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There is no mistaking that Paul is comparing the sourness of leaven to the actions (and words) of people in the context of the chapter above. The people he references are believers, not those lost to the world. Recall the original Passover and Unleavened Bread. Israel’s first stop was Marah with its bitter waters. If one fails to search out the leaven of the heart, the sour chametz will puff up like the chest of a wild beast of the field to create wickedness and eventually bitterness among even the Household of God. What’s the remedy?

1Cor. 5:11 (NASB) But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler—not even to eat with such a one.

Hopefully, being removed from the camp will spring up a well of repentance in such a person’s heart. Regardless, the yeast infection is stayed from infecting the rest of the local body. Our duty is to daily examine our own hearts for the sourness of pride. The indicators (fruits) are a dead giveaway as to what is truly growing in the soil. Check for the sweet attributes of the fruit of the Holy Spirit, and remove what doesn’t belong. In Psalm 34, David tells us to taste and see that the LORD is good. Taste, in order to “see” properly. This is also true for our words. Taste your words before you spit them out. Don’t let the putrid smell of decaying flesh be on your breath. May your lips drip with the fragrant honey of the Word and fruit (words and action) of the Spirit.

Salty

Lev. 2:13 (NASB)  ‘Every grain offering of yours, moreover, you shall season with salt, so that the salt of the covenant of your God shall not be lacking from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.

Eliminate salt from your diet and discover how mundane and boring eating and tasting can become. Salt adds life and delight to any type of food; even the best dessert needs a pinch of salt to bring out the richness and sweetness. Salt CHANGES the taste of food (it never works the other way around). It makes food and drink palatable and yummy. All sacrifices are offered with salt. Salt was not only a great commodity in the ancient world, but was a symbol of covenant in the near east.[10] Salt and a meal between families bound them together.

Too little salt and the taste is not as appealing. Too much salt, and something can hardly be swallowed, and can even result in poisoning. But with the right amount, flavor bursts in the mouth causing delight. This is what we are to be to other people; the thing that causes them to rejoice and crave more.

Col. 4:5-6 (NASB) Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity.  6  Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.

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Salt is a great cleanser and food preservative. It prevents decay and kills many harmful bacteria. Interestingly, Elisha purified the waters in Jericho with salt. (2 Kings 2) The bottom line is that salt can kill or heal. We must discern a healthy amount to use both literally and figuratively. Messiah said:

Mat. 5:13 (NASB) “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.

Salt also causes thirst. Our speech should cause others to hunger and thirst for righteousness, not suffer dehydration. Living Waters are to flow like a river from our innermost being. This IS the Holy Spirit, a river of Life and of Eden. If we have become salt that is no longer salty, or a pillar of salt that continually longs for the world, there is no life. We are a dry well. May Abba cast such a one into His watery refining fires of cleansing and renewal. May He sprinkle fresh water upon your soul.

Ezek. 36:24-27 (NASB)  “For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land.  25  “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.  26  “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  27  “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.

Asher

Taste and see! In conclusion, there is one last association for the month of Shevat that ties into the theme of taste. The tribe of Shevat is Asher. Asher means to be happy, blessed, to advance and walk straight. Perhaps Jacob and Moses’ blessings over this son and tribe will have a deeper meaning considering the faculty of taste just explored.

Gen. 49:20 (NASB) “As for Asher, his food shall be rich (fat), And he will yield royal dainties.”

Dt. 33:24-25 (NASB)  Of Asher he said, “More blessed than sons is Asher; May he be favored by his brothers, And may he dip his foot in oil.  25  “Your locks will be iron and bronze, And according to your days, so will your leisurely walk be.

Asher’s food (fruit) is fat and rich, a feast fit for a King and his court. He is a picture of one that offers the thirsty, hungry, and battle weary true refreshment. He spreads happiness and revitalizes the weak. This is how he yields “royal dainties.” He serves from the King’s table. Does this remind you of the wedding supper of the Lamb?

Moses, through the inspiration of the Ruach HaKodesh, blesses the tribe of Asher last. He is the eleventh-hour tribe (of the eleventh month). Moses says Asher is the MOST blessed of the sons. When his fruit is pressed (tested), his walk (foot) is revealed to be dipped in the sweet oil of the Holy Spirit. Verse 25 above uses the English word “locks” to describe the Hebrew word man’al, meaning sandal or shoe latches or the thing that secures one’s shoes. To have your “feet shod with the preparation with the Gospel of Peace,” remember the happiness of Asher. (Eph. 6:15)

Is. 52:7 (NASB)  How lovely on the mountains Are the feet of him who brings good news, Who announces peace And brings good news of happiness, Who announces salvation, And says to Zion, “Your God reigns!”

Asher is a reminder of the happiness to come in the fullness of the Kingdom of God and his banquet table of royal dainties. Asher has the oil from holy trees that others come to “purchase.” His delicacies make him favored among the brethren because they can “taste and see” the richness of the Holy Spirit in the actions and words that drip like oil and honey from his lips. They are a balm of healing and delight, a reminder of the King’s Table. May you be like Asher as a holy tree of life, and not the Asherim of deaf and dumb idols.

May this new month bring renewal and blessings upon you and your households. May it truly be a New Year for Trees (people) in your assemblies. May your tongue be used as a wise discerner of truth. May you be happy like Asher with the richness of the bread (Word) of God, and may you yield a banquet fit for the King and His Kingdom.

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Update: After reading this article, a dear reader sent me the following song by Andrew Peterson. It’s called “The Sower’s Song.” I can’t express the magnitude of how much Adonai is glorified in it! Enjoy!


[1] The word Shevat (שְׁבָט) is also phonetically related to Shabbat (שַׁבָּת). The letters tet and tav, both letters of the tongue, can be interchangeable.

[2] http://www.monell.org/news/fact_sheets/monell_taste_primer

[3] http://jcb.rupress.org/content/jcb/27/2/263.full.pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4647210/

[4] Learn more here.

[5] Flavor is a combination of taste plus smell, which is how your brain registers scent when you  eat something. I hope to explore flavor and smell in a later in post.

[6] For example, see: Dt. 20:19, Is. 65:22, Jer. 17:8, & Psalm 1

[7] See also James 3 on the tongue.

[8] Consider Jonah 3:7

[9] 1 Cor. 5:6-8, Gal. 5:9

[10] For more on this see Clay Trumbull’s Salt Covenant.

Categories: Biblical Symbols, new moon, Study Helps | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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