Sinai Covenant and New Covenant – what changed and what is the same?
For the last several weeks, I have been giving this series of messages at Tiferet Yeshua with the intention to explore the important elements of the Sinai Covenant and how they have changed, or not changed, in the framework of the New Covenant. Understanding both gives us a deeper understanding of God’s perfect plan for all of us – to dwell with us and bring us on a journey deeper into His heart and His presence. In this article I would like to share one of those messages.
Defilement in the Sinai Covenant
In the framework of the Sinai covenant the bible relates extensively to the subject of physical or bodily defilement. When reading through the somewhat exhausting verses on bodily defilements, particularly in the book of Leviticus, you may find yourself asking, “What is the point of all this?” Quite a bit, actually!
It is important that we first answer this question: what are these defilements that the Sinai Covenant speaks about? First of all, they are not sins. Defilements relate to situations in the human existence which connect to death. For instance: touching a corpse or a dead animal, illnesses (which are an expression of death), a flow of blood, even when semen leaves a man’s body, the potential of life has left the physical body causes defilement. Even birth causes a woman’s body to become “defiled”, something which at first seems very surprising, but it is because the life of her baby has “left” her body.
The Torah (the Law or first five books of Moses) reveals to us the basic spiritual principle that nothing which is connected to death can enter into the presence of God because:
He is not the God of the dead but of the living.
Defilement Denies Access
In the framework of the Sinai Covenant, anyone who was in a state of “defilement” was not allowed to enter the Temple – the physical building which housed the presence of God. The life of the Jewish believer under the Sinai Covenant revolved around worship in the Temple, and being denied access into the Temple was a serious thing.
In order to be purified from “defilement”, a person had to go through a process which always involved cleansing with water and the passage of time:
But if a person who is unclean does not purify himself, he will be cut off from the assembly, because he has defiled the sanctuary of the LORD. The water of purification has not been sprinkled on him; he is unclean
Defilement in the New Covenant Framework – different but the same
In the framework of the New Covenant, the Holy Temple, God’s physical sanctuary on earth, no longer exists. The sanctuary of God’s presence now resides in the spirits of all redeemed believers. In practice, the issue of defilement under the New Covenant is very different from the Sinai Covenant because we no longer enter into a physical earthly temple and therefore bodily defilement is no longer relevant.
However, the principle of “defilement” in the New Covenant is actually the same, but it is just expressed in a different way. Instead of physical defilement, now there is soul defilement. What is defilement of the soul? First of all, if we are talking about the soul, we have to clarify that we are talking about the realm of our thoughts, desires and emotions. Soul defilement in the context of the New Covenant relates to thoughts, emotions and desires in us which are not pleasing to God –in essence, they can be described as thoughts, emotions and desires which produce death instead of life.
When Yeshua first announced a change in the focus from bodily defilements to soul defilements, it was considered radical:
Yeshua called the crowd to Him and said, “Listen and understand. A man is not defiled by what enters his mouth, but by what comes out of it.”…
When the Pharisees heard this, they were shocked! And of course they were shocked: they knew that the Law taught that even touching an unclean animal would defile you, how much more defiling it would be to eat one. Yeshua clarified this further for those who were still open to hear about this groundbreaking shift:
…the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things defile a man. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, and slander. 20 These are what defile a man, but eating with unwashed hands does not defile him.
Soul Defilement in the New Covenant – a deeper level
In the framework of the Sinai Covenant, there was a physical Tabernacle (the Temple) and the Jewish believer would enter into it with his or her physical body. Therefore, they needed to be pure in the physical sense.
In the framework of the New Covenant, the Tabernacle of God is in the spirit of the redeemed believer and we enter into God’s presence with our souls. Therefore, New Covenant believers need purity in their souls in order to enter into the Tabernacle of God in the spirit. Why is that? Just as physical defilements limited the entry into the presence of God in the Holy Temple during the Sinai Covenant, so do soul defilements (evil thoughts, emotions and desires) limit our access to the Tabernacle of God’s presence in our spirits.
God calls us to purify ourselves from soul defilements because He wants us to be closer to Him, to enter deeper into His presence.
Purification – not an instant process
Of course, changing unhealthy ways of thinking, negative character traits or ungodly desires does not happen overnight. Our lives are essentially a journey the Lord takes us on, and the major point of that journey is internal change, i.e., the purification of our souls. God is drawing us on that process because He wants to take us to ever deeper and higher places in His Presence.
The Journey and the Process
Through life’s experiences, challenges and obstacles we face, God exposes or reveals our issues, unhealthy tendencies, emotions or ways of thinking. He then calls us to pay attention to them and to act in order to change and cleanse ourselves from them.
So how can we cleanse ourselves from soul defilements? It’s a process, but it’s not complicated. First, we must recognize the problem area (the defilement). Once we have recognized the problem, we must first desire to be purified from it—we have to want to change. Then we bring it before the Lord in prayer to ask Him to purify (change) us, because we cannot purify ourselves. Only God can do that work in our hearts.
- Desire to change.
- Seek the Lord’s grace and mercy each day to change
- God acts: He washes us with the water of the Holy Spirit (remember cleansing from defilement in the Sinai Covenant involved washing and sprinkling with special water).
Patience and Persistence
If I want to experience serious change within thoughts, desires and emotions, I can’t just pray one prayer and expect transformation. Just like being purified from bodily defilements in the Sinai covenant required a period of time, being purified from soul defilements in the New Covenant also takes time. Usually it is a process of weeks, months, and maybe even more than that, of bringing it before the Lord in prayer. But if I desire change, then I ask God sincerely in prayer to change me, and God acts.
There is nothing in us that God cannot change if we desire it and ask Him to change it!
A Lesson we can take from the Sinai Covenant to our New Covenant lives:
In the Sinai Covenant, there is also an element of being extremely careful and cautious about coming into contact with things that defile. In the same way, God wants us to exercise the same care and caution about the things that defile our souls. For example, listening to music or consuming entertainment with negative messages, listening to gossip or spending an abundance of time in the company of worldly people.
For we are the temple of the living God. As God said: “I will live in them and walk among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 17“Therefore come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.”…
2 Corinthians 6:16-17
by Gil Afriat
We have a simple motto at congregation Tiferet Yeshua: Love God. Love each other. Love our city (Matt. 22:38-40) When our leadership team was discussing the best way to “love our city”, God reminded me of a powerful and convicting passage in the book of James:
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?
James 2:14-16 ESV
I then felt God tell me: put your cooking skills and pastoral training together and hit the streets. I didn’t need to look very far for a place to start: just a few city blocks away from our congregation is Israel’s skid row, the worst area in all Israel for drugs, homelessness and prostitution. That is how Feed Tel Aviv ministry was born.
Love is an Action…
Each week, we prepare 450 healthy, home-cooked meals, the majority of which we serve out of a soup kitchen facility in the worst area of south Tel Aviv. After we finish serving warm meals at the facility, we bring sandwiches and drinks to the back alleyways where the hard-core drug addicts live who are too weak and sick to make it to our facility.
We are always asked, “Who are you? Why are you here?” That is our cue to share about the love that has brought us to the streets to serve them. We offer prayer and the word of hope to whomever is open. Whoever is willing, we offer to bring directly to a drug rehab center run by believers.
Last Minute Hope – A matter of life and death
Many of the people who volunteer with us for the first time are shocked by the squalor and suffering on the streets. It is a very difficult and dark place to serve, and the lives of the people we minister to are in constant danger from drug overdose, violence, or illness attacking their weakened bodies. Rarely are people able to commit to going to drug rehabilitation we offer them– it is a frightening and challenging step for them, if they are clear-headed enough to make that decision, and those who do usually have a spouse or a child for whom they want to turn their lives around.
I can’t tell you how many people we have prayed with and shared the gospel with. When we do, I know that it might be their last opportunity to hear life-saving truth. Several years ago, we were praying with a woman who was horribly addicted to street drugs: she broke down weeping when we prayed for her, and I will never forget her prayer asking the Lord to save her and inviting Him into her life. The next day, someone informed me that she was found on a park bench the following morning: she had died during the night. Our hearts were broken, but we also knew that that precious woman had cried out to God the night before and invited the Him into her life.
A young woman caught in drug addiction and prostitution…
Nicole showed up at our outreach every week. She would have a warm meal and the ladies who volunteer with us would always talk to her and prayed with her often. Nicole was very young and found herself caught in a vicious prostitution ring run by a powerful criminal gang that kept her enslaved through her relentless drug addiction. We shared the gospel with Nicole, and she prayed with us, but she always ended up going back out onto the street. Two weeks ago, someone who comes to our outreach center shared the sad news with us: Nicole had died of a drug overdose. Her death was reported in a small local paper.
As much as this ministry is an outreach to the neediest of the needy, the people on whom our society has given up, it is also an essential learning experience for us.
When we minister to these precious people, we touch the essence of what it means to follow Yeshua: humbling ourselves to be open to and to serve those who are in the most desperate need of His love. That is indeed what He did for us.
I think that these dark, trashy, rat-infested streets where the homeless live is not very different from how the world felt to Yeshua when emptied Himself of His glory to come down to earth to serve and save us.
Thank you for supporting this important outreach! When you do, you are with us serving food and sharing the words of life to the neediest of the needy here in Israel.
by Moti Cohen
Director of Feed Tel Aviv
Until the day breaks and the shadows flee, I will go my way to the mountain of myrrh…
-Song of Songs 4:6
A spiritual challenge: when asking, seeking and knocking don’t seem to work
This last year, I found myself feeling far from the the Lord, and I began longing for His presence. When I prayed about it, God showed me that one of the reasons I was feeling so far from Him was because I had pulled away after going through a period of suffering which began in March of 2020 when Israel went into covid lockdown. At the time, my husband and I had been seriously seeking the Lord, (we had just finished participating in a 40-day global Jesus Fast), we were moving forward in our ministry, and things were good! When the lockdown hit, I thought it might be an opportunity to have some “time off” from our busy routine. God, however, had something completely different in store for me.
Pretty quickly after going into quarantine, I started suffering from a debilitating physical condition. In addition to the practical steps one should take in such a situation, I took every right spiritual step: I sought the Lord in prayer. I spent more time in the Word. Instead of improvement, things got worse. So, I searched my heart. I repented. I prayed more. I declared the Word over my life. But then attacks started. And they kept coming. For a long time. Eventually, over time, things started to improve, little by little. But even after things had improved significantly, I still felt somehow traumatized, like I had been in a violent shipwreck at sea and was washed up on the shore still alive…but barely. I had climbed the mountain of myrrh through the night that Song of Songs 4:6 speaks about: myrrh, an ancient biblical spice used in the sacred anointing oil and in Yeshua’s burial, often speaks of suffering and death.
The Garden of Gethsemane – An invitation to suffering
Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane…He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with Him, and He began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then He said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
The scene of Yeshua alone in the Garden of Gethsemane came to me often during my difficult period. That night in the garden, Yeshua had asked the disciples who were closest to Him, Peter, John and James, to stay with Him as He wrestled with the great suffering He was about to endure. Instead of watching with Him, Yeshua’s nearest and dearest fell asleep.
When His persecution and suffering began, all His disciples (with the exception of John) would abandon Him. We often think of the great physical pain our Lord endured on the cross, but we do not often contemplate how it was coupled with the emotional pain of being abandoned by nearly all His friends and, ultimately, being cut off from the presence of the Father, as Daniel 9:26 foretold: the Messiah will be cut off and will have nothing. This is the Suffering Servant whom we are called to follow and emulate.
How popular culture has shaped our faith
Shallow secular culture has unfortunately influenced many in the church and trained us to think that God’s main desire for us is to be blessed, prosperous and happy. As a result, in the minds of many, any kind of suffering in the life of a believer must be the result of sin. A very mature woman of God at Tiferet Yeshua whose teenage son was killed fighting in one of Israel’s recent wars in Gaza shared with me the pain she experienced when fellow believers made her feel that her suffering and loss must be the result of sin.
Let me be clear: there is much needless suffering we experience which is a result of our bad choices, practicing sinful behavior and not investing time in our relationship with God. However, the New Testament makes clear, over and over, that there is indeed suffering which is according to God’s will (1 Peter 4:19) and that we are invited to participate in Messiah’s sufferings (1 Peter 4:12-17).
It’s all about love
I once thought participating in Yeshua’s suffering came only through direct persecution for the gospel. That is indeed part of it, but it is also more than that. When we understand that God’s main desire for us is to grow and mature in our love for Him and for others, we discover sooner or later that suffering is part of it.
Song of Songs 5 – The mature believer’s invitation to the Garden of Gethsemane
In Judaism, the Song of Songs is considered “The Holy of Holies”. In addition to its being a literal description of the love between King Solomon and his betrothed, the Shulamite maiden, on a spiritual level it is seen as a description of the sacred love journey between God and Israel. As followers of Messiah, we see it as the description of the bride of Messiah (Jew and gentile) growing in mature love for her Bridegroom King.
Chapter five of the Song of Songs describes the suffering and persecution of the mature bride. She is described as a garden, and others are blessed and strengthened by the fruit evident in her life (5:1). At that point, she must feel good, being right where she needs to be! But she is unaware that her Bridegroom is inviting her into a new and painful phase of growth, not unlike Yeshua in the Garden of Gethsemane asking us to keep watch with Him and to fellowship with some of His sufferings.
–She is asleep, but her heart is awake (5:2): when Yeshua finds the disciples asleep, He says, “the Spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt.26:41)
–The Bridegroom, outside, alone in the night, is seeking her companionship (5:2): “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” (Matt. 26:38)
-She is confused at this unexpected turn of events, but ultimately responds in obedience (5:3-5) – despite being scattered and confused, the disciple John and a company of women stay with Yeshua through His suffering (Jn. 19:25-26, Mrk. 15:40-41)
-She opens the door to Him, but He is not there. She seeks Him but cannot find Him (5:6): Yeshua is abandoned by the vast majority (Matt. 26:56) and suffers the ultimate separation from the Father on the cross (Matt. 27:46, Dan. 9:26)
-She is beaten and bruised by authorities over her and they strip her of her cloak (5:7): the Lord Yeshua was beaten, bruised and stripped of His clothing by the Jewish and Roman authorities (Matt. 26:67, Jn 19:1)
What is the response of the mature bride after all this ordeal? She cries out that she is lovesick for her Beloved and launches into highest praise of Him to the daughters of Jerusalem. What a powerful witness! In the next chapter, she declares “I am my Beloved’s and He is mine” from a place of personal experience knowing there is nothing that can separate her from His love. That is why her Beloved calls her “as awesome as an army with banners” in the next chapter (6:4).
That is going through the refiner’s fire – an idea that used to frighten me. The longer we walk closely with our Beloved, the more we understand His heart for us and that sometimes He leads us through the valley of the shadow of death in order to bring us to a deeper level of maturity, love and knowing Him…which is the truest joy and pleasure we can ever know.
If you feel like you have never experienced a real relationship with God, I highly recommend to you my friend Monica’s testimony!
by Tamar Afriat
A Rude Awakening
In my wildest dreams, I never imagined that I would lose my husband while we were still young and had young children. I would have cried just imagining the possibility. When I lost my husband to covid, broken doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt. Grief was consuming me, and I knew that I would not be able to care for our nine children if I didn’t do something. I had to fight. So, I did the only thing that I knew for sure would save me, and I did it with a passion: I cried out to God.
Sitting in the Shadow of the Temple
As believers, we can spend many years in the courtyard of the Temple. I can honestly say that for twenty-four years, I was in the outer courtyard. My husband led me to the Lord when we first met, and, to some extent, I was following his lead for many years. The problem was that I considered myself a strong believer—a passionate believer even! Today I know that I was defining myself by a set of beliefs that I strongly agreed with. That is not the same as having a deep personal relationship with God. About a month before my husband got sick, I started to feel that maybe something wasn’t exactly right in my faith. Soon enough, I would discover what it was.
Today I know that God did not pay the ultimate price for us to sit outside the Temple. He wants us with Him, and He is calling each of us to enter into the Holy of Holies. We have worship songs about it, but entering into the Holy of Holies is not a special feeling we get during an anointed worship service. Entering into the Holy of Holies is a life journey. To embark on that journey, there are a few essential first steps we have to take. Without them, we will never make it.
The First Step into the Holy of Holies
Setting aside time with God every day has to be a priority. If we do not invest time in connecting with God, we will never enter into a real relationship with Him, and we will stay in the outer courtyard. Staying in the outer courtyard does not mean that you are not saved. But being in that place for a long time, where there is still a lot of the world and its distractions in you, makes it a lot easier to get up and walk away altogether.
You Come Alone
Like I said, for many years I was following my husband’s lead in my faith. I was fellowshipping in our congregation. I was listening to powerful messages and worship music. All of those things are absolutely important. But you can’t come into a personal relationship with God in a group. You have to come by yourself. Alone.
When I found myself completely alone, without anyone to lead me, that is when I found the way. When I was drowning in grief after losing my husband, I began crying out to God constantly. Every day. All day sometimes. Before I knew it, I was tasting something I had never known before: a real relationship with God! To be clear, it is only by His grace, not by my efforts. I just make the time to sit at His feet each day, something I had never done before. The more time I spend at His feet receiving from Him, the more grace He gives me to make time in my schedule to be there.
God desires us to be with Him so much and is jealous for our affections. It is extravagant love, and it is also dangerous love. What do I mean by dangerous? If we do not give Him our hearts now, in His great love for us, He may decide to take something from us that we have let take His place in our hearts. Anything that takes the number one place in our lives instead of God is called an idol. Sometimes they are so close and dear to us, we can’t even see them.
Removing the Idols
We can decide to remove the idols ourselves. When an idol is removed against our will, it hurts! If God in His grace and mercy decides to remove an idol from our lives, it is an act of love. Today, I am in a place where I can say that I am grateful He took my husband home to be with Him. Now, I know you are thinking, “That is extreme! Why would she say that?” I can say that because when I lost my husband, I truly found God. And I can say to you that truly finding God is more precious to me than any earthly love that I could experience, even more precious than the amazing relationship I had with my husband and having him in my life.
My husband and I were amazing together. Our relationship was so blessed, especially in the last few years: we had been through so much together, and we were in a season of our love that was just so blessed. Still, that amazing love we had does not compare to God’s love. I know that my love for my husband and our relationship were in a more important place than having a relationship with God. Nothing should take the place of this amazing love in our lives: not our children, not the love of our spouses, not work or success. Nothing compares to it. Remove the idols from your hearts now while there is still grace! For twenty-four years, I was a lukewarm believer. Now that I have truly tasted and seen that the Lord is good, I don’t ever want to be in that place again.
My prayer for you is that God would open your heart and draw you with cords of love to begin the journey to know Him in a deep way, that He would enlighten your spirit, that He would reveal Himself to you as a living, loving God who is jealous for you, that He would draw you by His Holy Spirit into the Holy of Holies where He will share His secrets to your heart through the revelation of His Word, in Yeshua’s holy name, amen!
by Monica Obreja
These are terms most of us are familiar with as believers. Whether we fully understand the differences between them and their function is another matter. I have personally had confusion about them. This last week we celebrated the Festival of Weeks (Shavuot), the biblical holiday during which the Lord poured out His Spirit on the believers who were gathered in Jerusalem as described in the first two chapters of Acts. In this season we feel that God is calling us to seek even more to be “clothed with power from on high” as Yeshua exhorted His followers in Luke 24:49. The kingdom of God is not of persuasive words but of power (I Cor. 4:20), and to bring in the final harvest, we need the power of Spirit just as much as those who were stewards of the First Fruits harvest two-thousand years ago! Therefore, understanding the role and ministry of the Holy Spirit is essential.
Born of the Spirit – A New Creation – God’s Living Temple
Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again…no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
Being “born again” has become a Christian catchword for a person who has accepted Yeshua as their savior. The concept comes from Yeshua’s discussion with the Pharisee Nicodemus in John 3 during which He explained that a man must be “born from above” or “born of the Spirit. When an individual accepts Yeshua’s atoning sacrifice for their sins and submits to Him as Lord, their own spirits are purified and reborn from above, and the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in the sanctified born-again spirit of the believer. This is the “new creation” that the Apostle Paul speaks about in 2 Corinthians 5:17. So what in us has become a new creation exactly? Our spirits.
“Do you not know that you yourselves are God’s temple, and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”
Our physical bodies and souls have not yet been made a new creation, as Paul points out earlier in the chapter, stating that our mortal “bodies groan” to be clothed with immortality (2 Cor. 5:2-5). The “indwelling” of the Holy Spirit in our spirits is therefore the “seal of our salvation” (Eph. 1:13-14) and a “guarantee” for the day that death will be swallowed up by life when we are raised in glory to receive spiritual bodies (1Cor. 15:44).
Though we continue to struggle against sin in our souls and physical bodies, we do so with increasing victory, thanks to God’s grace and promise that rivers of living waters will flow from within us by the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39) which water the “dry land” of our souls and bodies, allowing us to produce the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23). This is what Ezekiel prophesied!
And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
The Holy Spirit dwelling within us convicts, guides, teaches, helps, encourages, imparts revelation and understanding of God and His love for us, helps us in our weakness and empowers us in the struggles of the flesh. That is amazing! But God has another special Holy Spirit gift for us, one so important that He does not want us to try to do anything for His kingdom without it.
Baptism in the Spirit – Outpouring of the Spirit
Before He ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of His Father, Yeshua told the believers to wait in Jerusalem for the gift promised by the Father:
“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”
This “baptism” or “filling” by the Spirit was something different from the indwelling of the Holy Spirit they had received as born-again believers in Yeshua. This was something that they experienced with their souls and intellect in a direct way. When the Holy Spirit came upon them during Pentecost, they received supernatural power which manifested in their physical bodies (speaking in tongues) and their souls (receiving wisdom to witness with boldness and power):
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
From that point on, the followers in Yeshua went forth proclaiming the gospel in power, signs and wonders. On the first day of receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit, Peter proclaimed the gospel in the Temple and “3,000 were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:41). After that, the numbers continued to grow. Thus began the harvest of souls—and how fitting that God commissioned it on the biblical holiday of First Fruits!
Not a One-time Thing
Many have a powerful experience when they are first baptized in the Holy Spirit, like with my wife: when she was a college student there was a call in her congregation to come forward for prayer to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit, something she had determined she would absolutely not do. But she felt like someone pushed her out of the chair, and before she knew it, she was up front receiving prayer. Her experience was powerful and she was surrounded with a strong feeling of God’s presence that stayed with her for days on end. For me and others I know, it was a much less dramatic experience, something that came during personal prayer when I was asking for the baptism in the Spirit. However, the baptism or filling with the Spirit is not a one-time event. How do we know that? Yeshua exhorts us to ask, seek and knock in order to receive more of the Holy Spirit:
“So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened…If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”
-Luke 11:9-10, 13
The Apostle Paul tells us to pursue love and desire more of the gifts of the Spirit, particularly those that bless and encourage others:
Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. For he who speaks in a tongue does not speak to men but to God, for no one understands him; however, in the spirit he speaks mysteries. But he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. He who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but he who prophesies edifies the church.
-1 Corinthians 14:1-4
The Holy Spirit is an incredible gift that God wants to give us. Can you imagine letting someone know that you have prepared a precious and wonderful gift for them, but they never ask for it? Even worse, they don’t even want it? The gift of the Spirit fills us empowers us to witness to others, fills us with the goodness of God, draws us closer to Him, and leads us to glorify Him (Eph. 5:18-19). We cannot worship God without the Spirit.
Once only for the few, now for everyone who believes
During the Old Testament period, the Holy Spirit would “fall” on or “fill” certain individuals, as was the case with the Old Testament prophets. During the time of Yeshua’s birth and life there were prophets, like Anna and Simon on whom the Holy Spirit rested (Luke 2:25), and Elisabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, was “filled” by the Holy Spirit when she saw Mary the mother of Yeshua and prophesied. However, that all changed with Pentecost when the Holy Spirit fell on all the believers in Jerusalem, just as the prophet Joel foretold when he wrote that God would pour out His Spirit on all flesh, not just a select few.
This year as we celebrated Shavuot (Pentecost) at Tiferet Yeshua, we feel God encouraging us to ask for more us His Spirit, more of the gifts, because the harvest is great and He wants to send us out “clothed with power from above” just like the first century believers who stewarded the greatest revival in history!
by Gil Afriat
One of the toughest neighborhoods in Israel
The area of Tel Aviv’s central bus station where we do our food outreach to the homeless is a very tough neighborhood—it may even be the worst in all Israel. The streets where we serve –where the hard-core drug addicts hang out and there is much prostitution— are controlled by Arab crime families from the cities Lod and Ramle in central Israel and from Rahat, a troubled Bedouin city in the Negev where crime is out of control.
At the mercy of criminal gangs
So how do the criminal gangs that control the area view our presence there? To say that they don’t like us is putting it mildly. Criminal gangs make their money by selling drugs and running brothels, so when we help drug addicts and prostitutes get off the street, we are hurting their ability to make money. Every drug addict is like a walking ATM for the dealers because each day he goes to great lengths to get money for drugs. The same goes for the girls who are working in prostitution, many of whom have been coerced or forced into it: each girl turns a profit for her pimp. Most of the women in prostitution are also drug addicts, and they pay for their drugs through prostitution: when these women succeed in getting off the street, it is a double loss for the drug and prostitution rings.
“Why are you here?”
To be able to do the work that God has called us to do in this area, we have to be diplomatic and smart. Honor and respect are inherent currency in the Middle Eastern culture, especially in Arab communities, and we always make sure to be very respectful to criminals running things in our area. Very often, they will ask us why we are doing this, who is supporting us, and what our motivation is. That is when we have the opportunity to share the gospel with them.
Sharing the gospel with Arab-speakers
Whenever there is opportunity, we share the gospel with anyone who crosses our paths, and many who do are Muslim-background Arabs. In addition to the Arab criminal groups who control the area where we serve, many young Arab Muslim men come to this area because of the prostitution. There are also Palestinian construction workers from Judea and Samaria (called the West Bank in the media), in Israel legally and some illegally, who end up sleeping on the streets here because they do not want to risk not being able to get back to their jobs if they go home for the night.
In addition to Hebrew and Russian, we keep Arabic bibles and outreach material at our center which we hand out on a regular basis. In order to be able to discuss the gospel with Muslims, we need to have a basic knowledge of how the Koran speaks about Jesus. When we talk about Ee’sua ibn Miriyam (Jesus the son of Mary), using His proper Arabic name from the Koran, it somehow opens their hearts and we are able to share about His work of redemption and the forgiveness of sins.
A surprising outreach tool
There is one book that we always make sure to have on hand in Arabic: Run Baby Run by Nicky Cruz. In the 1950’s, Cruz led a notoriously violent street gang in New York City and was saved by the gospel of love that he heard from preacher David Wilkerson. Because many of the Arab men in our area are either directly involved in criminal gangs or influenced by them, this book has a powerful impact on them.
When the crime gangs loose profit
Just recently we dealt a blow to the bottom line of the drug dealers’ bottom line when I had the honor of driving a man to a rehab center run by believers. This man who suffers from a serious drug addiction has been coming to our center for meals for several years. This man knows us well and over time has learned to trust us. At one point when he was badly wounded in a street fight, he came to us for first aid.
Recently he shared with us that he has a little son whom he is not allowed to see because of his drug addiction. During the day he keeps himself busy at a construction job, but in the evening, when he is alone and has nothing to do, he ends succumbing to his addiction. Each day he tells himself that he will break the cycle of addiction so that he can make a new start and have a relationship with his son, but each evening after work, he falls back into his addiction. That evening when he was sharing with us his sadness and frustration, he let us pray for him. As we prayed for him, he asked the Lord into his life, and, immediately afterwards, he threw away all the drugs that he had on him. Right then I asked him if he wanted me to drive him to a drug rehabilitation center run by believers, and he said “Yes!”
That evening when I drove him to the rehab center, I felt such joy! Serving on the streets, we see so much pain and sadness in the lives of many who are unwilling to make the serious commitment to go to a rehab program. Not only did this young man open his heart to the Lord, but then he agreed to being taken physically out of the cycle of crime and enslavement to addiction and brought to an amazing rehabilitation center run by believers where he will have every chance and support to become free through God’s grace. It is truly a lifesaving step!
I want to thank you so much for your faithful support of this ministry! Without your help we could not be out there providing food, love and hope to so many.
by Moti Cohen
The Shock of War
No one believed that Russia would attack Ukraine, and when they did, everyone, including the Ukrainians, were shocked. I have friends all over Ukraine, and they started sharing with me harrowing stories of bombings, constant fear, confusion, food and water shortages. I was in shock that this could be happening in Europe today.
A Great Desire to Help
Day after day as I followed news of the war, I felt an intense need to help but had no idea how. So, I began asking God to send me an opportunity where I might help: I immigrated to Israel from Latvia when I was a little girl and grew up speaking both Russian and Hebrew. With my language skills, I felt that I could offer practical help with the refugees who were beginning to stream into Poland and Germany.
Within a week, God sent me an opportunity through a ministry my husband works with: I was chosen to put together and lead a team of Russian\Ukrainian-speaking Israelis to volunteer for a week at a refugee intake center in Berlin, Germany. Financial and practical support for the refugees was pouring in from all over the world, but there was still a great need for Russian-speaking volunteers.
Choose Your Team Wisely
While I was choosing my team of volunteers, the team we would be replacing debriefed me: the hours are long, the work intense and emotional. I knew that I had to choose the volunteers who would join us carefully and prayerfully: they needed to be strong believers, able to withstand the challenging physical conditions and also have the emotional maturity to be able to offer the refugees spiritual and emotional support. The eight individuals who joined my team are amazing people: ranging from ages 22 to 60, each one was willing to put their lives on hold and to invest their time and energies in this important undertaking. We spent a lot of time in prayer together before we left—we knew that we would need God’s grace, protection, strength and wisdom to be able to do what He had called us to do.
Overwhelming and overwhelmed
Our team arrived in Berlin and were brought to the central train station where refugee transports arrived all day-long. We went through an orderly briefing, were cleared as volunteers and received a special orange vest indicating that we were qualified to volunteer (orange meant we spoke Russian or Ukrainian). At first, we were overwhelmed by the size of the train station—it is enormous, more like a city. But very quickly we learned our way around and, within a day or two, knew it like the back of our hands.
As we were receiving our orientation at the train station, we came to a platform where a train of refugees had just arrived, and I found myself suddenly overwhelmed by the sight of all those refugees, mostly women with children, exhausted, confused and broken. I wasn’t sure how I was going keep it together to be able to help them. But amazingly, God gave all of a certain numbness to our emotional shock so that we could do the work He had called us to do.
What was special about our team
There were many volunteers from Germany and all over Europe, but Russian\Ukrainian-speaking volunteers were few. We got along amazingly well with all the different volunteers and were blessed by the cooperation and teamwork there was between us. All the local volunteers and the refugees knew that we were from Israel. They also came to know that we were Israeli followers of Jesus who were there to share the love and hope of God with them.
Trains arrived every couple hours all throughout the day with anywhere from 300 to 700 refugees per transport. Our job was to help the people off the train, direct them to their connecting trains or to buses going to temporary housing, or to various rest areas in the train station for food, medical help, diapers or hygiene products.
Sometimes we only had a short time bringing them from one train to another in which to share a few words of encouragement. If there was time, we always asked if we could pray for them: everyone wanted prayer. No one who refused.
Predators and human traffickers
One of the disturbing things we discovered was that human traffickers were there at the train station trying to exploit the vulnerable women and children. Quite a few times there were warnings sent out among the volunteers that predators were spotted trying to take young women and children – this is a sad reality that my friend and colleague Moti Cohen at Tiferet Yeshua knows through our outreach ministry in the streets of Tel Aviv where he has seen an alarming number of young teenage girls from Ukraine showing up on the streets. Each time the volunteers received a message about human traffickers, our team came together and prayed: each time, praise God, the perpetrators were caught and the children returned.
What was special about the refugees
Ruth, a volunteer from Tiferet Yeshua who joined our team, shared that she was struck by how kind and thankful the refugees were. We never heard anyone complaining or angry at their situation. Every single one expressed sincerest gratitude and thanks, which is amazing considering that these were mostly women with children who had left their husbands behind in a war zone, with all they had in the world packed into a couple bags, arriving in a place they don’t know the language and have no idea where they’ll be staying.
We were amazed by how much love we received in return from the people we were serving. We felt that God directed us to those who needed our help the most. Countless times we were able to pray with people, and many opened their hearts to ask God to come into their lives. We got so many warm, heart-felt hugs from people! The mother of two young girls I had time to take McDonalds for lunch told me, “Seeing you come all the way from Israel to help us gives me hope there is still good in the world.” I told her, “It is the goodness of God that brought us all the way from Israel to help you.”
Some very special connections
Every connection was special, but there were a few instances that were extraordinary or that left a powerful impression on me. One afternoon I arrived on a train platform and a German volunteer who saw my orange vest indicating that I was a Russian\Ukrainian-speaker motioned for me to come help her. She was trying, unsuccessfully, to communicate with an elderly woman in a wheelchair. I started speaking with the woman and quickly discovered that she has a son living in Israel – many of the refugees arriving did not have cell phones or cell phone service. This woman gave me her son’s number and I immediately contacted him in Israel on WhatsApp to let him know that his mother was okay and sent him a picture of her. He was so incredibly thankful: it had been many days since he had last heard from her and didn’t know whether she was alive or dead.
Alone, lost and traumatized
One day I approached a thin, pale young woman with one small bag in her hands who looked completely lost. She did not know English or German and asked me to accompany her to the next train she needed to take. She told me that she had escaped her city in a hurry on a bread truck and that all along the way out of the area they were exposed to intense bombardment from Russian tanks. I could see that she was very traumatized. I prayed for her and encouraged her that God is close to her: all she needs to do is to call out to Him in Jesus’ name and He will be there to help her through every situation. She thanked me with tears in her eyes before she got into her next train.
A lost teen
Before I left Israel, I posted on social media that I would be in Berlin helping with refugee transports. In Berlin, I started receiving calls from people in Israel asking me to meet their relatives who were on their way to Berlin from Ukraine and had lost contact along the way. One family asked me to look for a 17 year-old girl who had been on the road for a few days by herself with no internet and no possibility to call. Her family sent me a picture and, amazingly, we were able to find her, let her talk to her family in Israel, and help her onto her next destination.
I can’t begin to even scratch the surface of all the stores we heard, all the connections we made, how God put us in the right place at the right time to help people in distressing situations, and how many opportunities God gave us to simply show these precious people His light and love and to sow seeds of hope and faith in their hearts.
Please do not forget about what is happening in Ukraine, even though the headlines might be losing their impact after several months of war. Please pray that through all this difficulty and suffering the Ukrainian people would find comfort in God and draw closer to Him!
by Victoria Trubeck
Nothing leavened may be found among you, nor shall leaven be found anywhere within your borders.
Passover cleaning – most Jewish mothers start thinking about it with dread a couple months before Passover. On top of getting rid of all leaven products in the home, it means washing out kitchen cupboards and drawers, scrubbing down the refrigerator and the freezer, and vacuuming under furniture and between sofa cushions. Passover cleaning is a thorough process which we manage to turn into arduous one!
The Bible, however, does not command us to do “Passover cleaning” in the way that we do it today. Exodus 12:19 simply says that there should be no leaven found in our houses for the seven days of Passover. It doesn’t say to search out every last crumb in the furthest corner of your house. God commanded the children of Israel to eat only unleavened bread during Passover as a remembrance because it is, as Deuteronomy 16:3 says, the bread of affliction they ate when they fled Egypt in haste. God commands us to remember in many places in the Bible because all of us humans so easily forget what God has done in our own lives, let alone in the lives of our forefathers.
Biblical Holidays – a spiritual meaning beyond the literal
As New Covenant Jewish believers, we know that beyond the literal meaning of the biblical holidays in the Hebrew Bible, there are also symbolic, prophetic meanings for all of us today which the New Testament makes clear to us. Passover, the seven-day feast God commands the children of Israel to observe as a remembrance of their exodus from Egypt, pointed to the ultimate Passover which would happen many years later when God provided His perfect Passover lamb so that we all may be set free from bondage to sin. In that symbolic context, many elements of the Passover feast take on new and deeper spiritual meanings. One of those elements is leaven.
The gospels tell of Yeshua’s warning His disciples of the “leaven” of the Pharisees. At the time, they were confused about His use of the term “leaven” in a symbolic sense because they were still in the “literal” mindset, and He had to explain it to them. By warning of the Pharisees’ leaven, Yeshua was warning them of falling into a particular sin they excelled at—hypocrisy. Later, when Yeshua took the unleavened bread on the night of the Passover before His crucifixion, He made another powerful correlation to leaven, or the lack thereof:
And He took bread (unleavened matza), gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
What a powerful image of Yeshua’s sinless (free from leaven) life, pierced and broken for us! The unleavened bread of affliction now symbolized the great affliction that He would endure on our behalf. Later on, the Apostle Paul would give us even more clarity about the spiritual meaning of leaven and what it symbolizes in our lives:
Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.
-1 Corinthians 5:6-9
Clean out that leaven!
God’s original command to the children of Israel to remove all the leaven from their homes turns into a command for all of us to remove the sin in our lives. Passover, along with the holy Day of Atonement, are biblically appointed times that direct our hearts towards repentance. Even though our spirits have been born again, a purified new creation, and filled with the Holy Spirit thanks to Yeshua’s atoning sacrifice for sin, we must still live lives of repentance because we are still at war with sin in our souls and physical bodies—with increasing victory thanks to God’s abundant grace!
The New Testament is filled with countless warnings and exhortations to beware of allowing ourselves to fall into sinful behavior, to repent when we do and to continue fighting the good fight. Another way to think of fighting the good fight is Passover cleaning!
B’deekat Chametz – Checking for Leaven
On the night before Passover when all the cleaning and removing of leaven has been completed in orthodox Jewish families, the father takes a candle and a feather to search for leaven in the house, looking in all the nooks and crannies where it might have been missed and using the feather to sweep out any remaining crumbs he finds. The following morning, the family gathers together and the father burns whatever leaven he found in his search together with the rest of the leaven that was removed from the house.
The Father’s Candle and Feather
While the strenuous religious lifestyle of the orthodox is burdensome with constant attention to rigorous rules and regulations, we can possibly learn something from their ardent attention to searching out leaven in our lives if our motivation is love for God. Some feel burdened by the idea of repentance, and some may avoid it altogether due to feelings of shame from the enemy or because they have been wrongly taught that there is no need to repent after accepting Yeshua as Lord. Whatever the reason, God is gently calling each of us to seek out the leaven in our lives.
Now imagine God the Father as the Father of your household: invite Him to come with His candle to help you find the leaven with the gentlest of tools—a feather. He is the only one you should let in to join your search because He is motived only by love, and He is the only one with the authority to burn the leaven—completely removing it from your life!
Wishing you all a meaningful holiday season, filled with the blessings and wonder of God’s amazing love for us!
by Gil Afriat
“Now in the twelfth month, that is, the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day, the time came for the king’s command and his decree to be executed. On the day that the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, the opposite occurred, in that the Jews themselves overpowered those who hated them.”
The central narrative of Purim is summed up in a Hebrew phrase from the book of Esther – v’nahafoch hu – “and the opposite occured” or “it was turned upside down”. The Purim principle of V’Nahafoch Hu highlights the dramatic reversals in the story: what Israel’s enemy planned for destruction was suddenly turned into their own destrction and Israel’s salvation.
The theme of the “dramatic reversals” in the story of Esther begins with Haman and Mordechai the Jew – Haman desired praise and the king’s favor, but he was forced by the king to give it publicly to Mordechai, the Jew he despised. Haman then concocted a plan to get Mordechai sentenced to death for his faithfulness to worship only the God of Israel and had a large gallows constructed for that purpose, where, ultimately, he was hanged instead of Mordechai.
The Purim story of dramatic reversals prophetically points to the most dramatic reversal in all history. But, before we get into that, understanding the roots of the conflict will show us how deep they are and how determined God is to remove them.
The Roots of the Struggle – Mordechai and Haman
First let’s look at what the Bible says about Mordechai. Ester 2:5 describes him as “…a Jewish man from the tribe of Benjamin…son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish.” The fact that Mordechai is described as the son of Kish should make us think of another biblical character: Saul, the son of Kish:
“Now there was a Benjamite, a powerful man, whose name was Kish son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Becorath, the son of Aphiah of Benjamin. And he had a son named Saul, choice and handsome, without equal among the Israelites—a head taller than any of the people.…”
1 Sam 9:1-2
The Bible shows us that Mordechai is from the family of King Saul, either descended from the same forefather or perhaps even a direct descendant.
Now let’s look at the personal identification that the book of Esther gives of the villain, Haman. Ester 3:1 describes him as the “… son of Hammedatha, the Agagite.” This title given to Haman points us to another place in the Bible where we get more information about his background:
“Then Saul attacked the Amalekites all the way from Havilah to Shur, near the eastern border of Egypt. He captured Agag king of Amalek alive, but devoted all the others to destruction with the sword.…”
1 Samuel 15:7-8
Here we discover that Haman is a descendant of Agag king of Amalek. Saul, from whose family Mordechai is descended, and Agag king of Amakek had serious issues with each other. The prophet Samuel had sent King Saul into battle against the Amalekites, because, as 1 Samuel 15:1-3 describes, the time had come to destroy Amalek, the ancient enemy of the children of Israel.
Who is Amalek?
The Amalekites were the first nation to attack the children of Israel in the desert after their exodus from Egypt. Unprovoked, the Amalekites ruthlessly attacked the weak and the weary Israelites who were at the back of the procession. Ultimately, the children of Israel defeated Amalek in battle, but God commanded Moses to record their treacherous attack for posterity.
Israel had many enemies – so why was God so adamant about wiping out Amalek specifically? As a people, the Amalekites had most likely become completely corrupted by darkness, and for that they received God’s judgment to be wiped out entirely. In Exodus 17:16, God promised to wage war against Amalek in every generation and ultimately to wipe out the memory of Amalek from the earth. Clearly, God did not mean he would be fighting the Amalekites throughout the generations, because they no longer exist as a people. However, God uses Amalek to represent Israel’s spiritual arch-enemy: Satan. The struggle against “Amalek”, in the symbolic sense, is the ultimate battle for the hearts of mankind: God created us with a free will to choose between good and evil, to choose the ways of God or of Satan, i.e., Amalek. When God told Saul that he rejected him as king, it was because he had kept the Amalekite king Agag alive – essentially, Saul had compromised with Israel’s most deadly spiritual enemy – Satan.
Israel’s Battle against Amalek and a Picture of the Cross
A day before Israel’s battle against Amalek, Moses said to Joshua: “Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.” The next day, when Moses stood on a hill overlooking the battle and raised his staff over his head, with Aaron and Hur holding up his arms on either side, Joshua and the Israelites succeed in overcoming Amalek. The image of Moses holding his staff over his head, shows us a very literal picture of the cross. The figure of Joshua, (Hebrew Yehoshua) who is the leader of Israel’s armies fighting Amalek, is also a picture of Yeshua, Commander of the amies of Heaven.
A Hand upon the throne of the LORD—Yad al kes Yah
Exodus 17:16 makes an interesting and somewhat puzzling statement, one that is translated in multiple ways.
“And Moses built an altar and named it The LORD Is My Banner. He said, ‘A hand upon the throne of the LORD. The LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.’”
The most literal translation of the words is: “A hand upon the throne of the LORD.” While translators of the Bible have given this phrase different meanings, I see this verse as speaking of the future Messiah who would wage the ultimate war against Amalek for the hearts of mankind. Yeshua the Messiah is described as Yemin Adonai – the right hand of God. We know that the Messiah sits at the right hand of the Father’s throne –the Messiah is the Hand upon the throne of the LORD.
The battle against Amalek in the book of Esther and the Grand Reversal
Saul’s compromise with Amalek, essentially with sin, fell to his descendant, Mordechai, about six hundred years later. Mordechai was not a king with an army to fight Amalek: though just a lowly Jewish subject to the Persian king, he was humble, faithful and uncompromising. Mordechai’s battle begins when he refuses to bow to Haman:
All the royal servants at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, because the king had commanded that this be done for him. But Mordecai would not bow down or pay homage.
This enraged Haman so much that he came up with a scheme to destroy Mordechai and his people, building a grand gallows especially for Mordechai. Eventually, Haman is hanged on his own gallows. Haman is publicly humiliated and Mordechai is praised. The king could not nullify His own decree to kill the Jews that Haman had legislated, but he decreed a new law that gave “the Jews in every city the right to assemble and protect themselves; to destroy, kill and annihilate the armed men of any nationality or province who might attack them and their women and children, and to plunder the property of their enemies.” (Esther 8:11)
Purim’s dramatic reversal foreshadows the most dramatic reversal in history
The most dramatic reversal in history is accomplished by Yeshua on the cross: from seeming defeat by the forces of darkness with His death on the cross and descent into Sheol, Yeshua reversed it in His resurrection, overcoming death and the powers of darkness:
I was dead, and behold, now I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of Death and of Hades.
Yeshua’s earthly ministry began after he was tempted as a man and refused to bow down and pay homage to Satan. Mordechai refused to bow down and pay homage to Haman. There was a death sentence and a gallows waiting for Mordechai. Satan thought he overcame Yeshua by seeing Him crucified on the cross. But it was not Yeshua who was ultimately put to death there on the cross: sin, Satan’s power, was put to death on the cross.
…having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
Haman had to make a public spectacle of himself by leading his hated enemy, Mordechai, through the streets on the king’s horse, wearing the king’s robe and proclaiming, ‘This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!’” (Es. 6:9). After Haman is hanged on the gallows he had prepared for Mordechai, Mordechai rises to become the king’s chief advisor. After Satan is defeated on the cross that he thought would defeat Yeshua, Yeshua rises to be above all power and principality and sits to the right hand of the throne of God the Father. That is the most dramatic reversal in all human history. The story of Esther and the “dramatic reversals” in it encourage us and point to the ultimate reversal that the Messiah would bring about on the cross.
Though we are saved – the battle continues!
In the Spirit, the “Nahafoch hu” was completed for us when our spirits were born again, made holy, and we are seated in heavenly places with Yeshua above every power and principality of darkness. But in the realm of our souls and our bodies, the situation is different – there we are still engaged in a process to battle against our spiritual enemy to attain that “great reversal” in ourselves, another way of describing the process of sacntification and victory over the enemy. Just like the Jews in Esther were empowered and backed up by the king to “destroy, kill and annihilate” their enemies, we have been empowered by the High King of heaven to battle our ancient enemy in our hearts and minds unto victory!
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.
2 Corinthians 10:3-5
by Gil Afriat
Watching the main Israeli news coverage of Russia’s attack on Ukraine, I was struck by how vastly different the Israeli perspectives are from the West’s. The most startling fact is that the vast majority of Israeli experts have reached a sobering consensus on Russia’s military aggression against Ukraine: it represents a dramatic change in world order. Furthermore, such a new world order, they contend, places Israel in a precarious position.
The West Thumbs its Nose at Russia
The battle for Ukraine is not actually about Ukraine: it is a power struggle between Russia and the West. For years Putin has been trying to get the West to pay attention to him and respect him. In response, the West has largely written him off as a backwards autocratic dictator who suppresses the press, imprisons or kills off political opponents and stifles personal freedoms (all of which is true). At the same time, through the enlargement of NATO, the West has been expanding into Russia’s zone of influence which Russia calls a provocation. Ukraine, a country bordering Russia that wants to free itself from Russian tentacles, has been seeking NATO membership which would guarantee Ukraine military protection by the West should they be attacked by a non-NATO state. For Russia, it would mean the deployment of NATO long-range missile systems at their back door.
In 2021, Putin asked US President Biden for legal promises that Ukraine would not become a NATO member. Biden refused Putin’s request, and NATO Secretary General Stoltenberg boldly declared in response that:
“Russia has no right to establish a sphere of influence.” (AXIOS, 01Dec21)
To Putin, a proud man dedicated to Russia’s dignity and securing his country’s strategic interests and resources, those were fighting words. The ones who would pay the price would be the Ukrainians.
What works: Military Action or Economic Sanctions?
Europe is unwilling to enter large-scale military conflicts. The US has become war-adverse because they still have the bad taste of costly military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq in their mouths which, to a large extent, ended badly. Instead, the West believes in the “soft power” of economic persuasion.
Russia, on the other hand, has been steadily building up and modernizing its army and is willing to use it to achieve diplomatic ends because it knows that no country in the West will try to intervene militarily. According to economic experts, sanctions, even the toughest ones, can take years to have any real effect. According to Alistair Milne, professor of economics and Swift system expert:
“The uncomfortable fact remains that economic sanctions, if they are to be more than symbolic, necessarily impose costs on both sides and might have to be imposed for a long time. Russia has spent a decade preparing for the current war and any consequent economic sanctions.” (The Conversation, 28Feb22)
This week, a leading political analyst in the US called Putin “irrational, isolated and not connected to reality”. On the other hand, Israeli analysts are calling Putin one of the smartest and most savvy leaders in the world. The difference in the assessment is stunning. So, which one is true?
The Potential New World Order
With one voice Israeli analysts are saying the same thing: Russia’s military aggression is signaling a new world order. The Russians, along with other nations, have had their eyes on the Western-led world order and see that its leader, the US, is becoming more isolationist and has been weakened by deep internal conflicts largely led by progressive liberal agendas. According to Dr. Uzi Rabi, Director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies, the US has been pulling back from robust international engagement for the last ten years, and, in the absence of American power, Russia and China have been gathering strength. Top Israeli political analysts agree that the new global power dynamic that is emerging is bad news for the world: who are the members of the new global power club? Russia, China and Iran.
Russia’s Army on Israel’s Northern Border
“…the Russians are our neighbors to the north, and it is important that we manage the delicate and complex situation there smoothly…”
-Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennet, Oct. 20212
Every month or so, I hear the roar of Israeli fighter jets over my home in central Israel, and I know that the next day I will most likely see in the news that Iranian arms convoys or other Iranian military installations in Syria have been bombed. What many people are not aware of is that back in 2015, Russia intervened militarily to save its old cold war ally, Assad in Syria, which it achieved with great success. Since then, Russia controls the Syrian airspace and maintains a strong military presence in Syria. In the meantime, Russia does not want to allow Iran to overrun Syria as it once did, and here its strategic interests dovetail with Israel’s: keeping Iran at bay. Israel has been maintaining a very delicate and important cooperation with the Russians in Syria which allows Israel to keep Iran’s military ambitions in check through targeted airstrikes.
If Russia comes out of its military campaign in Ukraine mostly unscathed, it will most likely start flexing its muscles more in the Middle East. While Israel’s sympathies and identity is with the West, it also has a very complex and nuanced strategic relationship with Russia. Because of this tectonic shift in the world order, Israel will have to find the right formula to be able to walk between its sympathies for the West and its ideals and Russia’s growing power and influence in the region.
We see this as continued birth pangs, and our prayer is the God’s perfect will be done to prepare all believers to stand firm during these times of shaking and to be light in darkness!
by Tamar Afriat