20211127 Parsha Vayeshev – And it was Winter

Torah Portion           Gen 37:1-8

Haftarah                  Amos 3:1-8

Brit Chadashah       John 10:22-30

The ninth reading from the book of Genesis is named Vayeshev, which means “and he dwelt.” The title comes from the first verse of the reading, which says, “Now Jacob [dwelt] in the land where his father had sojourned, in the land of Canaan” (Genesis 37:1). Despite the portion’s name and first verse, the story is actually about Jacob’s son Joseph and how he was removed from the land of Canaan and dwelt in Egypt. The narrative follows Joseph from Canaan to Egypt to prison. In addition, this week’s reading contains the story of Judah and Tamar.

Generally speaking, I normally begin the weekly teaching with the Torah Portion and work my way to the Brit Chadashah (New Testament).  Today I want to throw a curve ball and begin reading in the book of John.  Tomorrow evening we will begin the eight nights of Hanukkah and end on Monday night with a party here together.

John 10:22  Then came Hanukkah; it was winter in Jerusalem.

I have heard discussions from various factions within Messianic Judaism regarding celebrating events that are not mandated by Torah.  The two main targets of these folk are Hanukkah and Purim.  Purim not so much, but Hanukkah is in their crosshairs because the custom of celebrating it is not in the accepted canon of the bible but in the book of Maccabees.  Purim is a couple of months away and Hanukkah begins tomorrow night so let’s talk about Hanukkah.  Yeshua celebrated Hanukkah.

I’ve heard several people tell me they are excited about Hanukkah because this is the first time they have ever celebrated it.  At the risk of being boring, I’d like to give you the Cliff’s Notes version of Hanukkah for the ones just entering into the wonderful world of Messianic Judaism.

After Alexander the Great died, his empire was divided into four parts.  The part that ruled over Israel was the Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes whose throne was in Assyria.  He forbade any expression of the Jewish religion on pain of torture and then death.  He sacrificed a pig on the altar at the Temple and erected a statue of Zeus in the holy place of the Temple.

Torah-faithful Jews rebelled with Pinchas-like zeal against their Greek oppressors, but also waged a civil war against the large population of Hellenistic Jews who embraced Greek debauchery. After several years of guerilla warfare, led by Judah, the Levite they called the Maccabi, the Greeks gave up and left Israel.  The Temple was horrifically defiled, so the survivors set about cleansing it and restoring it.

They were desperately trying to get it ready for the feast of Sukkot but the task was too great.  So they settled on a late Sukkot and an eight day celebration, well after the temperate harvest-time.  The problem arose that there was only enough purified oil for one night.  The priests filled the lamp of the menorah and miraculously the menorah lights burned for the entire eight days and nights until more oil could be processed. That is why Hanukkah is called the festival of lights as well as the feast of dedication.  And Yeshua was in Jerusalem for the festival!

The Bible says it was winter.  I don’t know how you feel about winter, but I am not a fan.  I lived in northern Illinois for about 8-9 years when I was young.  Winter for me means cold, dark, dreary days.  All the vegetation dies back.  There is very little life.  For me, winter feels like death.  Winter meant death to countless soldiers in the armies of Napoleon and Hitler as they tried to invade Russia.  In my mind’s eye the images of snow swept plains in the Doctor Zhivago movie gives me shivers just thinking about it.  Retain that description of winter as we proceed through the Parsha.

Hopefully you won’t get whiplash from this jumping back and forth, but let’s go back to Joseph.  You know the story of the technicolor coat that Jacob had given him, and his dreams portraying his family bowing down to him.  His brothers didn’t relish the idea that their young brother would be over them.  Possibly Joseph was also displaying the arrogance of a cocky teenager.  Anyway, out in the fields far away from home his brothers conspired to kill him.  Judah intervened and instead they just threw him in a pit before selling him to traders heading to Egypt.

Can you imagine what was going through Joseph’s mind when he was thrown in the pit with no way to climb out.  His own brothers were leaving him to die of thirst and exposure in the wilderness.  Regardless of the season, Joseph was experiencing winter.

A day later a rope was tossed down to Joseph and he rejoiced because he as saved.  Or so he thought.  He was not saved but instead sold into a life of slavery.  His fall from being the favored son of a rich and powerful patriarch to a lowly slave bound for Egypt was enough to crush any man.  Joseph was experiencing winter.

God showed Joseph His favor and Joseph became the manager of the household of an influential member of the Egyptian government.  Everything seemed good until Joseph found himself cast out of his position and thrown into prison, due to the treachery of Potiphar’s wife.  Joseph was experiencing winter.

The nation of Israel went through similar trials, being enslaved in Egypt.  Their sons killed so they would not be a threat to Pharaoh, cruelly used by Pharaoh to build the cities of Egypt.  Israel was experiencing winter.

Fast forward a thousand years, Israel had escaped Egypt, experienced trials in the wilderness, conquered Canaan and became an influential nation under David and Solomon.  Then they began their slide into idolatry and disobedience.  The kingdom split into Israel and Judah. Israel was conquered by the Assyrians and 100 years later the Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians.  Judah was exiled to Babylon.  The Jews were experiencing winter.

However, God remembered His promises and the nation of Israel was restored, never to the prestigious heights attained under Solomon, but still a nation.  Being small and relatively powerless, Israel was repeatedly overrun and ruled by several nations leading up to the Seleucid period.  The atrocities committed against the Jewish people are too heinous to detail here this morning.  But we can say that Israel was experiencing winter.

The Grecian yoke thrown off by the Maccabees was quickly restored under Roman rule.  The Romans were not as concerned with destroying Jewish religious practices and customs as were the Greeks, but Rome ruled Israel with an iron fist.  Israel was once again experiencing winter.

This was the world that Yeshua grew up in.  There was constant and sometimes deadly bickering between the various religious factions.  In fact, there were some 22 different sects of Judaism active during some part of Yeshua’s Life.  As if Jewish political opponents killing you wasn’t enough, they always had the Romans to contend with. The Roman empire was much more resilient than the Greeks so there was little hope for freedom from Rome.  As the writer of John said.  It was winter in Jerusalem.

I have described several scenes throughout the Bible where individuals and nations were brought low.  They were cold, dark, dreary, teetering on the brink of disaster.  Though they may have thought that eventually, spring will come, would it come soon enough to prevent their demise.  The icy winds of despair still chilled them to the bone with little hope of rescue.

Have you ever felt that way?  I’m sure you have because I know a bit about some of your lives.  Perhaps you or some family member or friend is in a snowbank right now.  There is no light or warmth, no hope.  It may not be you right now that is feeling that way, but we need to be cognizant of those situations that confront others we know and love.  Because they may not always feel like they can reach out to anyone.

Look at these two verses again.

John 10:22-23  Then came Hanukkah; it was winter in Jerusalem. Yeshua was walking in the Temple around Solomon’s Colonnade.

Look at two things.  Hanukkah and Yeshua.  Hanukkah was a celebration of survival of unspeakable horrors.  It was a celebration of the mercy of God in granting Israel salvation from their oppressors.  It was a celebration of rededication of the Worship of the one true God.  It was a cause of hope.

However, Hanukkah was only a celebration that, no matter how well intended, was insufficient in battling the demons of despair and depression.

When Solomon dedicated the first Temple the record shows that the glory of God filled the Temple.

1 Kings 8:10-11  Now when the kohanim came out of the Holy Place, the cloud filled the House of Adonai, so that the kohanim could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of Adonai filled the House of Adonai.

The Hebrew word used here for glory is kavod.  It means weight.  The glory of God was so powerful that the priests could not stand under the load.  That temple housed the Ark of the Covenant where God had said he would dwell with the people.  The people had abused the ark and the glory of God’s presence had lifted.  But at the dedication God had restored his presence.

Five hundred years of failure of the Jewish people to follow God’s Torah resulted in the destruction of the Temple in 586 BCE.  Nearly a hundred years passed before the Temple was rebuilt.  But there was a difference.  The Ark had been lost. And God’s presence was not there as it was in Solomon’s day.  They had a Temple, priests rebuilt furnishings, but no presence.

But John tells us that on that cold day in Jerusalem during the festival of Hanukkah God’s presence returned.

Yeshua was walking in the Temple!  Roughly a thousand years after God’s glory settled on the Temple, God’s Son was in the Temple.  There was no weight of God’s glory forcing men to the ground.  But the words Yeshua uttered while surrounded by his critics would start in motion God’s plan for the salvation of man.

John 10:27-30  My sheep hear My voice. I know them, and they follow Me.   I give them eternal life! They will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all. And no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

The religious leaders wanted to stone Yeshua because he said I am ben-Elohim, the Son of God.

With that encounter things in Jerusalem or in the entire world for that matter would never be the same.  Yeshua was walking in the Temple.

Is it winter in your life today?  I extend that question to all of you here in this building as well as to any who are watching on social media.  Are you cold and miserable?  The bible says that we are the temple of the Holy Spirit.  Do you feel like your Temple is empty?  Well Yeshua is walking in the Temple.  He is walking in your temple today if you will let him.  Even if you are already a Believer, we go through periods of winter.  There’s no shame in that.  Open up the door of your temple and invite Him in.