Saturday, December 31, 2011

Countdown to Destruction: 3

Romans 9:6 states that “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel.” The next verse even takes it further to specify that not all of Abraham’s descendants are his children. What the Apostle Paul was talking about was the house, or family—later, the kingdom—that God has established as a separate people, with a family tree that reaches back to Adam and Eve. And through the ages, this family has grown into a nation as it extended its membership outside the physical borders of the nation that claims its origin. Through simple invitation, God offers one proposition to all He calls out to: to be His child and co-heirs with His Only Begotten, Jesus Christ.

From Old Testament times, God has maintained the integrity of His house through a policy of obedience to His laws; to the delinquents, He reached out in reconciliation, urging them to repentance; to the rebellious, He warned of pruning, truncating, and, in extreme instances, uprooting. These principles are markedly taught and symbolized in the Holy Scriptures, and expressly lived as a cultural cornerstone of God’s people. Years before Jesus’ birth, for example, His cousin John the Baptist held a preaching ministry in the Judean desert, urging the nation of Israel to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2).

According to Biblical historians, the particular period that covered the life of John the Baptist, Jesus Christ, and the early days of the Christians in Israel was considered as the most corrupt episode of religious Israel. For one thing, the office of high priest, which God prescribed for only one person, was held by several persons of unscrupulous and formidably terrifying political reputation. But the most despicable aspect of this controversy was that none of these pretenders were in any way, shape, or form descended from the house of Aaron, the brother of Moses.

Design Pics/Darren Greenwood/Corbis
In Exodus 28:1, God handpicked Aaron and his sons to minister before Him as priests. In the fortieth chapter, He commanded Moses to anoint Aaron first, then his sons, in their sacred garments, for the service. “Their anointing,” God said, “will be to a priesthood that will continue for all generations to come”  (verse 15). No other family in the Bible was awarded the office of priesthood
aside from Aaron’s. In the twenty-fifth chapter of Numbers, Aaron’s house gets blessed with a covenant of lasting priesthood, through the zealous act of Phinehas that turned the anger of God away from the Israelites. The priesthood recognized by the Mosaic culture, therefore, was the Aaronic priesthood. It was a mandate straight out of heaven shamelessly disregarded in the last fifty turbulent years before Jesus’ birth, when an aristocrat named Annas was appointed high priest in Jerusalem. The nation, probably tired of reacting against their foreign oppressors, tolerated the appointment further when Annas maneuvers to swap and share the office with his son Caiaphas and another relative to accomplish a unique multi-headed mutation of an originally Divine design. Very often in the gospels, the controversial plurality of “chief priests” is confirmed in many passages, beginning in Matthew 2:4 to John 19:21; then from Acts 4:23 to 26:12.

What was meant to be a single-headed leadership with the high priesthood on top turned into a religious council patterned like a Greek-style oligarchic supreme court. It was almost the four-headed, four-winged leopard monster in the Prophet Daniel’s vision (Daniel 7:6).

In 586 B.C. King Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian army swept down into the Kingdom of Judah and sent the entire nation into exile. As prophesied by the holy men of Israel, the buildings dedicated as monuments of religion and political kingdom were torn down, including the Temple in Jerusalem built by kings David and Solomon. With the Temple gone, the aspect of Judaism anchored to it went into a period of dormancy. It was in this time when the exiles of God developed the portable system of worship in which the synagogue came into existence.

Photo: ©American Colony Photographers/National Geographic Society/Corbis

The synagogue is one of the symbols of the Jewish cultural and religious will to survive and flourish on foreign soil. Its system took over the Jewish religious culture when there was no Temple to fulfill God’s Mosaic mandate in rites and rituals. It took over the requirement of religious assembly as every community in different localities could conveniently set up one its own. The “rabbi,” or teacher, took over the role of the priest. And instead of sacrifices, prayers were offered up to God.

The synagogue form of worship was based on the message of the Prophets who called for the repentance of the Northern Kingdom of Israel and then of the Southern Kingdom of Judah until both succumbed to their respective judgments. In order for their message to be remembered, great men of God like Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Amos, Hosea, Haggai, and others, left behind documentation, known to us today as books, which were gathered by the faithful who believed their words. Those who later realized the truth as they wept by the waters of Babylon learned from the prophetic books and letters that the people of God must set an example for the rest of the world to follow. This was therefore how the books of the Prophets were added to the Mosaic Pentateuch and provide the foundation of the synagogue way of life. It was the religious system that saved Judaism from deteriorating during the Babylonian captivity and especially in the 1,800-year Diaspora that lasted from 135 A.D. to May 14, 1948, when the Jewish people lived a life of exile after exile from one nation to another, from Western Europe to Eastern Europe and then back again to the West.

©Brooklyn Museum/Corbis
This new religious order went with a top council of elders of who were considered the wisest and most experienced men of all the tribes of Israel. This was later called the Sanhedrin, a leadership body that ideally possessed the functions of a senate and a supreme court. Traces of its framework goes back to Israel’s slave days in Egypt when there already existed “elders of Israel” whom God told Moses to gather and speak to regarding the people’s coming deliverance (Exodus 3:16). Moses and Aaron often gathered the elders when they needed something coursed to the people—probably a command from God (Deuteronomy 27:1), an instruction (Exodus 12:21), or a provision (17:6); to gather every single Israelite in worship (Leviticus 9:1); or to have fellowship with (18:12; 24:11). God consecrated this body of elders to assist Moses in governing His people:

“The Lord said to Moses: ‘Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the Tent of Meeting, that they may stand there with you I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take the Spirit that is on you and put the Spirit on them. They will help you carry the burden of the people so that you will not have to carry it alone. So Moses went out and told the people what the Lord had said. He brought together seventy of their elders and had them stand around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke with him, and he took of the Spirit that was on him and put the Spirit on the seventy elders. When the Spirit rested on them, they prophesied, but they did not do so again. However, two men, whose names were Eldad and Medad, had remained in the camp. They were listed among the elders, but did not go out to the tent. Yet the Spirit also rested on them, and they prophesied in the camp” (Numbers 11:16–17,24–26).

Either joining the membership or along with this body of elders were judges, “capable men from all the people—men who fear God, trustworthy men who hate dishonest gain” appointed as “officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens” (Exodus 18:21).

This addition was suggested by Moses’ father-in-law Jethro when he once witnessed how Moses officiated specific disputes among the masses.

“Have them serve as judges for the people at all times,” said Jethro in verse 22, “but have them bring every difficult case to you; the simple cases they can decide themselves. That will make your load lighter, because they will share it with you. If you do this and God so commands, you will be able to stand the strain, and all these people will go home satisfied.” (verses 22 to 23).

The body of elders continued to function as designed alongside Joshua’s leadership (Joshua 8:33; 23:2). In the time of the Judges, they proved to be the most consistent human leadership that kept Israel a standing nation despite the sporadic raids and vulnerability to foreign domination. By holding faithful to their role of overseeing their respective tribes, they succeeded in buttressing national independence or tribal power until the rise of a Judge, such as Deborah and Barak, Gideon, and Samson. They served as the political and cultural adhesion that kept Israel from breaking apart. It was a job that wore out those in position during the turbulent uncertain period of the Judges so that by the time of the Prophet Samuel, they came to him as one man and finally asked for a king. Their demand in the Eighth Chapter of 1 Samuel bears the exasperation of the pressures that entailed their office during that time:

©Roger Wood/CORBIS
“Give us a king to lead us” (verse 6), who would “go out before us and fight our battles” (verse 20).

Right: Yeah, "a king to lead us, to go out before us and fight our battles," just like how the Egyptian monarch Ramses had gone out and humiliated the Nubians, as depicted in the relief, and how he shelved the Philistines in coastal Palestine to pester the Israelites from the time of the Judges till King David tamed them in his reign.  
Below: What the queen that sent the great Prophet Elijah running for his life might have looked like: Cybele, the Near-Eastern cult goddess that may have inspired the fertility deities of Classical literature.

©Araldo de Luca/CORBIS
This frustration is also seen in the Prophet Elijah when he took to flight when the godless Queen Jezebel threatened to take his life. The Book of 1 Kings stated that he “went a day’s journey into the desert” where he sat down under a tree and prayed that he might die (19:4). “All at once,” said the fifth verse, “an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’” Here, it may be safe to assume that God was pampering His prophet for “there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water” (verse 6). The same verse said that Elijah finished it all up “and then lay down again.” The angel came back a second time, again with food and drink for him, and said, “Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you” (verse 7). God understood what His prophet was going through, but forty days of running away may have crystallized his resolve to quit his calling:

“I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (verse 10, and also 14).

God graciously respected Elijah’s resignation. He gave the outgoing prophet his last mission: the anointing of two men who would be kings of their nations—Hazael of Aram and Jehu of the Northern Israelite Kingdom; and the commissioning of Elisha, his replacement.

And with the elders of Israel who clamored for a king to lead them, God complied by giving them what they wanted: a king and a reflection of their spiritual relationship with God.

For several hundred years after the Prophet Samuel the council stood by its king until the twin kingdoms of the Northern and the Southern were hurled into exile. But even in Babylon, it did not take long when the people of God were allowed a gradual measure of self-government, and it was at this chance when the council was revived. Without a Jewish king to advise, however, the council could only function in the religious and cultural, not in the political as the imperial authority they were under would prevent them from establishing their own king lest the people of God be independent.

©Macduff Everton/CORBIS

There is speculation regarding the people of God establishing their post-exilic king in a prince named Zerubbabel (Haggai 2:23), a descendant of the royal house of David. He was among the first wave of re-settlers in Jerusalem along with a Zadokite priest named Jeshua. Unfortunately, Zerubbabel never made it to the throne, making it only as far as “governor of Judah” (Haggai 1:1, 14; 2:2). Though the Bible is silent regarding this, some scholars hold that the people of Israel attempted to crown Zerrubbabel king. Learning about this, the Persian authorities arrested, tried, and executed the prince on the grounds of high treason. On the other hand, as the Persians had no objections to a high priest being king, they passed on the administration of Judah to Jeshua, the Zadokite priest. The prophecy spoken by the Prophet Zechariah thus came true:

“Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the head of the high priest, Joshua son of Jehozadak. It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two” (Zechariah 6:11,13).

A high priest as king became the shape of things to come, for even in the days when the Greeks came Hellenizing the world which they later won from the Persians, they maintained sitting a high priest in charge of Judah. As with the Persians, the Greeks trusted the Jews to self-government because of the outstanding check-and-balance they maintained in their leadership through the function of the Sanhedrin. Any abuse of power by invoking Divine will was controlled by the Sanhedrin’s expertise on the Mosaic Law.

The Sanhedrin’s membership, as discussed earlier, came from the leading families, scholars, and intellectuals of Israel. It had in all seventy-one members; in the time of Moses, there were seventy. Twenty-three judges composed a committee judging cases involving capital offenses. A minimum of three members formed a body handling civil cases and lesser criminal offenses.

The rabbis of the Sanhedrin adhered to a legal system based on the dignity of man and individual equality before the law. The law, they believed, was a vehicle for justice; laws without justice were regarded as immoral (Max I. Dimont, Jews, God and History [Mentor: New York, 1994], p.84).

For the next five hundred years, the Sanhedrin played an unparalleled role in an age when the High Priest was ruler in the Jewish realm. Yet because of the counter-balancing presence of the Sanhedrin the theocratic aspect of the Jewish government represented High Priest would only remain a shell of an actual secular core (Ibid., p.72). Then one day after the Seleucid kings wrested power from the Ptolemaics in 198 B.C., a sudden crack in the theocratic shell would send the nation into a tailspin of misery and corruption.

[Aaaaaand...we ain't done! Happy New Year from Manila! I live in the noisiest part of the Metro at the noisiest time of the year, New Year's Eve. The fireworks were awesome; the firecrackers were deafening. Thank God the firecrackers are over! Happy New Year, folks—God bless us all!]


  1. Great write-up. Enjoyed reading. Thanks. I'll come back. God willing.

  2. Jan Mythos is a good biblical historian fit to teach in Bible Schools to better understand the relevance of the Scripture to present days.