Empty Fruit

by Lois Tverberg

“Cursed (Arur) is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He will be like a bush (arar) in the desert, and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant.

But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream. It will not fear when the heat comes, but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought, nor cease to yield fruit.” Jeremiah 17:5-7

After reading this proverb about the cursed tree and the blessed tree, it is easy to imagine what the blessed tree must look like — thick green leaves; branches covered in large, luscious fruit; abundant growth even when everything is dry all around. The tree pictured here looks like such a tree.

But the remarkable thing about this beautiful tree is that it is actually the cursed tree that Jeremiah spoke about in this proverb. According to Nogah Hareuveni, an expert on plants of the Bible, in Hebrew the name of this tree is called the Arar, which sounds similar to the word for cursed (arur) and is part of a wordplay which is central to this poem.

Why is it called “cursed”? Because if a thirsty, hot traveler approaches the tree and picks a nice big fruit, he will find a nasty surprise. When opened, the fruit makes a “pssst” sound, and is hollow and filled with webs and dust and a dry pit. The Bedouin call this tree the “Cursed Lemon” or “Sodom Apple” because it grows in the desert salt lands that surround the Dead Sea where Sodom and Gomorrah once were. According to their legends, when God destroyed Sodom, he cursed the fruit of this tree also.

Interestingly, the cursed tree looks very healthy and abundant, as if it has a survived even in hard times and still has done well in life. Like the tree, many people who rely on their own strength really persevere enough so that they seem to “have it all.”

But we will not be judged on our “tallness” (fame, notariety) or our “leafy-ness” (material success), but on the fruit of our lives. Jesus tells us that rocks and weeds in our life can prevent us from bearing fruit. But it seems that even if we seem to be bearing fruit, there is a danger that it might be quite empty.

What really is wrong with the tree? Essentially, the big problem is that the fruit has no juice. The tree is supposed to absorb life-giving water from the soil and pass it on to others through its fruit, but something is not happening. It is as if the tree has cut itself off from the source of living water by relying on its own strength.

In some sense, the juice is the maim chaim (living water) of the Holy Spirit, which Jesus says will pour out of the one who believes in him (John 7:38). The “juice” comes having a life that is filled with the refreshing presence of the Lord, and without that, our lives are empty and hollow.

Laws for the Gentiles

by Lois Tverberg

It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell. Acts 15:28-29

When the early church convened in Jerusalem to decide what to do with all the new Gentile Christians, there was debate about whether they must convert to Judaism or not. Some felt that since the Jews had always been God’s people, to be saved one must be Jewish. But Paul and the rest of the early church saw that God is the God of the Gentiles also (Romans 3:29), and ruled that Gentiles could be God’s people without converting to Judaism.

One thing that we find puzzling is the rules that the early church said applies to the Gentile converts because they appear to be mostly food laws – meat sacrificed to idols, blood, and strangled animals, things that would prevent them from having table fellowship with Jews. But out of all the things that should be prohibited to the Gentile world, why these?

Worshipping an IdolSome scholars have a different answer based on knowledge of the texts and the Jewish culture of the time. They note that in ancient manuscripts, the text of this passage is difficult and often varies between manuscripts, leaving out one or more of the prohibitions. Their suggestion is that the most ancient versions of this passage actually contained a proscription against the three most serious sins in rabbinic thinking of the time – idolatry, sexual immorality, and bloodshed (murder). In Hebrew, the law against murder is shefichut damim, literally, “shedding of bloods.” The Hebraic idiom may have been misinterpreted after translation into Greek to mean the prohibiting the eating of blood instead.

Cain and AbelInterestingly, rabbis often accused the pagan Gentiles of being guilty of exactly the sins of idolatry, sexual immorality and murder. And, a prohibition against this threesome of sins is also mentioned in other early Christian literature as well. Later in the Talmud, these three laws were interpreted as part of the laws that God gave to all humanity in the time of Noah in Genesis 9. They were extremely serious sins — rabbis ruled that all of the commands of the Torah could be broken to preserve a person’s life except these three things.

This seems, in my opinion, to be a much more satisfying answer to what we as Gentiles called to do. Of course sexual immorality and murder are universally wrong, and no Gentile worshipper of God can keep worshipping idols as well. The Holy Spirit and early church did not give all of humanity odd food laws to follow; rather, they ruled that we are answerable to God for these most basic, and serious sins.

See David Bivin “Requirements for Gentiles,” New Light on the Difficult Words of Jesus, pp. 141-144, (En-Gedi, 2005)

Photo: Hochschul- und Landesbibliothek Fulda and  Ghent Altarpiece

Living Water Flowing

by Lois Tverberg

“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink!” John 7:37

Living water is one of the many physical images used in scripture to express spiritual truth. We as Westerners don’t usually recognize the significance of the Hebraic use of imagery, and we miss them.

The image of living water is known around the Middle East, where water is scarce and precious. In biblical times, when rain fell after months of clear skies, it was considered a miraculous gift from God. And, in the dry areas, lush plant life was only found on the banks of rivers. From this arose the idea of mayim chaim (MY-eem KHY-eem), life-giving water from the heavens or from a natural spring.

Jordan River.

This image recurs from Genesis to Revelation, strongly associated with the presence of God. In Jeremiah it says, “Those who turn away from you will be written in the dust because they have forsaken the LORD, the spring of living water.” (Jeremiah 17:13) From Eden, where God dwelled with man, a river welled up that formed four mighty rivers. (Genesis 2:10). In Revelation, the river of life flows out from under the throne of God (Revelation 22:1). So, when Moses struck the rock on Mt. Sinai to yield water it would have made sense to the people, because if God was present on Mt. Sinai, water should miraculously flow from that mountain too.

By understanding the imagery of the scriptures, we can hear God’s word better. We hope you will be refreshed by having a little drink of living water with us each day!

The Mighty One of Israel

by Scott Leys

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. – Exodus 20:2

The Hebrew language is a language short on vocabulary. Oftentimes a single Hebrew word can have many nuances of meaning depending on suffixes, prefixes, and context. One word may serve to convey many different ideas or word pictures, making for a very poetic, but not a very concise language. There is one glaring exception to this rule though.

Have you ever stopped to consider what our Heavenly Father means when he identifies Himself as our God? In the passage above, the Hebrew word translated as God is Elohim. To the Hebrews it carried the connotation of Yahweh as the creator of all things. Interestingly there are several other Hebrew words that have been translated as God in our English versions of the Bible. So while the Hebrew language as a rule is word poor, the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, were very specific in assigning attributes to the Almighty.

Reverent Figure

Other Hebrew words translated as God include: El (identifying Yahweh in all His power and magnificence); Eloah (identifying Him as the mighty one to be worshiped, contrasted with false gods); Elyon (usually translated Most High God – identifying Him as the possessor of heaven and earth); and El Shaddai (usually translated as God Almighty- identifying Him as our nourisher and all bountiful giver).

What significance does this have for us? Our Father intended for us to know Him in a very personal and intimate way. He shows Himself to us by letting us in on these different personality traits. He wants us to understand every aspect of who He is and what He does for us. Many of us have a personal relationship with our Savior Yeshua, but we sometimes fail to realize Yahweh revealed Himself to His creation from the very beginning in this same personal way.

The next time you come across God in the Old Testament, pull out a concordance and look up the Hebrew word. You might be surprised at the treasure you find.


Photo: youraddresshere

A Gift That Grows

by Lois Tverberg

“…And others are the ones on whom seed was sown among the thorns; these are the ones who have heard the word, but the worries of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful.” – Mark 4:18-19

Growing flower

One year for Christmas I bought two gift boxes of potted bulbs that would bloom as a beautiful bouquet in the middle of winter, if the growing directions were followed. I kept one for myself, and I wrapped the other up and gave to some ladies at my workplace. When they unwrapped their box they “oohed” over the beautiful flowers in the picture on the box, thanked me appreciatively and set it aside. I set my own box aside for a week, and then discovered that the bulbs had sent up stems, and had been growing inside the box on their own with no light or water.

The next time I saw the ladies I saw that their box hadn’t been opened, so I told them that the bulbs were growing already. But it fell on deaf ears, and their box sat unopened in clear view of everyone for some weeks beyond that. I can only imagine that when they opened it, they were saddened to find stems that had grown, gotten yellow and never bloomed because they were not cared for.

What hit me is that this was a little like Jesus’ parable about the seed that was sown on various types of soil. In Jesus’ parable he speaks about people for whom wealth and daily cares act to choke the seed of the Word in their lives, making it unfruitful. In a related way, many of us are excited to get the “gift of salvation” and like to look at the picture on the box, but we don’t open the box and do the work of prayer, discipleship and study. We would rather be busy with our own daily activities and just be glad we are saved.

But God desires more than to give us a box with a lovely picture on it. He gave us a living gift, just like the bulbs in the box! Just like them, the gift of the Holy Spirit is alive in us too, but only can grow in us as much as we let it. How sad if the beautiful bouquet that the Lord had intended to grow from our lives would remain stifled and yellow inside of us. We need to become true disciples so we can bloom in the way he intended.

Photo: stux

The Spirit and the Southern Stairs

by Pastor Ed Visser

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.… All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.…
Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd….”
Acts 2:1-4,14

Southern StairsOne of my favorite places to visit while in Israel was the southern stairs of the Temple. Not only did it offer shade at the right time of the day, of great import in under the summer sun, but it is also a very “authentic” place. There are not many places in Israel where you can say for certain, “I stood/walked where Jesus did.” — but this is one of them. Many of the original steps leading up to the Temple remain, including the threshold in front of the main Temple entry gate, across which Jesus must have made a number of trips. This was also one of the best locations in Jerusalem for a teacher to speak to a group, something Jesus likely did as well.

But the southern stairs have a special meaning for the Christian church for another reason: this is the most likely location for at least some of the events of the day we know as Pentecost. That is actually the Greek term for the Jewish feast known as Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks. This harvest festival, held 50 days after the feast of firstfruits, also celebrated God’s giving of the Torah on Mt Sinai. At nine in the morning — the time Peter identifies for us — every good Jew (Jesus’ disciples included) would have been at the Temple for the morning sacrifices related to this feast.

Temple from Mt OliveFor some reason, over the years, the Christian church has often associated Pentecost with the Upper Room, but there is no indication of this in Acts 2. In fact, all the clues point to the Temple: 1) ‘House’ in Jerusalem (v.2) was always the Temple; 2) every good Jew would be there for the feast at 9AM (15); 3) it would be the only place where you’d have so many foreign (diaspora) Jews (5-11); 4) the southern stairs was a logical place for Peter to preach to such a large audience, and 5) the only area in Jerusalem with enough mikveh’s (ceremonial baths) — over 140! — to baptize 3000 people (41).

For God, often represented by wind and fire in the Old Testament, to fill and then leave the Temple, was a picture of God changing his address. No longer does he live in the Temple in Jerusalem, but in his followers, those Paul described as “the Temple of the Holy Spirit.”