“We must stop them now,” Guido said, determination and concern driving him to action.
Michael hesitated, his hand on Guido´s shoulder.
“Wait,” he said. In the absence of clear orders he preferred not to act, even though events were escalating out of control.
Lucifer had taken advantage of Mosheh’ absence and had infiltrated the ranks, working his way right to the top. Even Aaron was involved.
Michael could hear their whining arguments. “Where is he? We´ve been waiting more than a month. How do you know he´s even alive? The God of the Mountain may have destroyed him for all we know.” There were a number of them doing the talking. Michael recognized them all. He wasn´t surprised. This wasn´t the first time they have stirred up trouble.
“Here in this valley there is food and water and rest. Yes, rest. Finally, after so much running and hiding in the desert, it’s time to celebrate, to give thanks.” They were so reasonable. Others took up the same refrain. The poison started to spread even further.
“Yes, let’s celebrate and worship the god of the mountains. Let us give him form and substance so that we can bow down to him and worship him.” As if the God of the Mountain that they still feared would be happy with a worship that was a direct disobedience to his command. Fear was no longer the beginning of wisdom, it no longer motivated the people to obedience but rather to placate, to ingratiate, to negotiate, as if the God of the Mountain needed or wanted anything from them in the first place, other than their love and obedience.
“Aaron, help us. You are the high priest. Make a golden figure for us – a calf – to represent this god of thunder and storm so that we may worship him.”
Michael saw Lucifer and his Special Forces goading the people on, enticing them with their lies. Ignoring the protests of the others, they demanded that Aaron fashion a god for them. And to keep the peace, Aaron did as they asked. They gave of their plunder, gold rings and bracelets, bowls and amulets of gold – all of it more wealth than they could imagine. It was transformed into a god they understood and did not fear so much. And the people celebrated their freedom and their rest and worshiped the golden calf at the foot of the Holy Mountain, the throne of God.
Michael saw the cruel, satisfied glint in Lucifer’s eye but still he did nothing.
He would wait. God was not blind after all.
Upon the mountain, Mosheh had received two stone tablets engraved with the Ten Divine Words that would transform the world. Ten Divine Commandments that would establish and confirm their relationship – a people and their God. It was the foundation of all Law. It was a picture of God’s priorities and concerns. It was the frame upon which the fabric of their lives would hang, the foundation upon which a nation would be built.
Gabriel saw it as an awesome revelation of the tender love and care of God for his people. But it was rejected before it was even presented, the covenant broken before it was even enacted. Michael had already communicated what was happening in the camp below. A perfect mirror of the rebellion of the human heart even under the blessing of God. Law, by itself, would not be enough to change the heart of man.
It was only the first step in the long journey back home.
The tension in the room was high now that Benjamin´s secret was out but his grandfather did not seem to notice. Benjamin was not really worried, merely cautious. The visitors were the most dangerous for they were unknown. Benjamin glanced at Jubal, aware of his murderous glare. There was nothing he could do but go on.
Benjamin took a deep breath and asked the second question that made up the Passover tradition, wondering how the night would end now that his secret was out. “What is the meaning of the decrees and laws and customs that Yahweh our God has laid down for us?”
Gamaliel gave the traditional answer, also quoting in his soft, gentle way from the Torah.
“Once we were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt, and Yahweh brought us out of Egypt by his mighty hand. Before our eyes Yahweh worked great and terrible signs and wonders against Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his House.”
He looked around at the family as he spoke the ancient words.
“And he brought us out from there to lead us into the land he swore to our fathers he would give to us. And Yahweh commanded us to observe all these laws and to fear Yahweh our God, so as to be happy for ever and to live, as he has granted us to do until now.”
Gamaliel stopped for a moment as he contemplated his next words, the key words in the passage.
“For us right living and our justification before God will mean this: to keep and observe all these commandments before Yahweh our God as he has directed us.”
Gamaliel looked at Benjamin. “This is the heart of the issue for me,” he said. He wasn’t sure how he wanted to put it. “For us the Torah is everything. If we do not keep the law, we have lost our identity, our purpose, our blessing. Your Maschiach threatens our whole way of life, young Benjamin, can you not see that?”
The heads of the others in the room nodded their agreement.
“Yes grandfather, I can.” Benjamin frowned, deep in thought. “But I am not sure our way of life, as we practice it today, should not be threatened and transformed. How much of our practice of the law is encrusted with interpretations and rules that have nothing to do with the true law of God?”
Gamaliel trembled at his audacity. He was throwing a blanket accusation over the dedicated work of generations of scribes and Pharisees with one bold statement. But he remained quiet, wanting to understand better what Benjamin meant. After all, there was a time when he had made bold statements as well.
The others were not so patient and began to murmur. Gamaliel quieted the room with a look and a gesture. He was still in charge.
“After all, grandfather, the Law is the Word of God and cannot be changed. Even Yeshua believed that,” Benjamin said, looking at no one but his grandfather.
“He did?” It did not fit Gamaliel’s image of this revolutionary Rabbi from Nazaret. The others were also surprised, he noted.
“Yes,” Benjamin said. “In fact, he said that not one dot, not one little stroke, shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved.”
“The Law has a purpose?” Gamaliel picked up the nuance immediately.
Benjamin looked pleased. “Yes, grandfather, its purpose was to point to the Maschiach, to make known the meaning and the need for his work. Yeshua also said that he did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to complete them, to fulfill them.”
Gamaliel blinked twice, his eyes wide open. This Maschiach was always full of surprises. What did he mean that he would complete them? Was Yeshua claiming that he could keep the law perfectly? That he did not need the sacrifices? That he was sinless? He decided to ask Benjamin.
“Yes, grandfather, he was without sin.”
As skeptical looks flashed from bearded face to bearded face, Gamaliel was deep in thought. The Maschiach was a Divine Being in some of the prophecies, so if Yeshua claimed to be the Maschiach, he claimed Divinity and Divinity was without sin. Why did it always end up in heresy?
Unless, of course, it’s true and he is the Maschiach.
Gamaliel dismissed the idea. He was not yet ready for that kind of radical thinking.
“Obviously, the moral law has priority over the ritual laws,” Gamaliel said, trying to work it out. “It is only the reality of sin that makes the sacrifices and ritual important and necessary.” Thinking about some of the ridiculous rules upon rules and interpretations of the law that focused on the minute details of the Torah, Gamaliel reluctantly admitted part of Benjamin’s argument. “Perhaps we have forgotten the simplicity of the Law to a degree in our day.”
That admission won him no friends among those who were listening. They saw him as their advocate, their spokesman, who would show young Benjamin the error of his ways. But Gamaliel was determined to treat Benjamin fairly, to give him a true and complete hearing. He cared nothing about public opinion. Besides, he, himself, wanted to know the truth of the matter before he died. That was what was pushing him to take these risks.
“You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free,” he said quietly to himself, remembering something he had read.
“Yes, grandfather, it is so,” Benjamin said. Their eyes met for a long moment and neither said a word.
Gamaliel guessed what Benjamin was thinking but he was not yet willing to admit that he had studied the forbidden manuscripts once or twice himself.
Not, at least, in front of the others.
Akbar rousted out the troops that had been assigned to him for his mission that night. He was early and the guards grumbled as the final moments of their Passover meal were interrupted.
They were off duty but had been told to treat Akbar with respect and obey him as a representative of the High Priest himself. They knew it had something to do with the Rabbi Gamaliel and Akbar noted that not all of them were happy about it. But they would obey their orders and that’s all that mattered.
Gamaliel was not done his questioning on the matter. “Why do you say, young Benjamin, that the Law also points us to the Maschiach? Is not the keeping of the Law simply a way of life, a guide to right living?”
“Yes, grandfather, it is so but it is also more than that.” Benjamin paused for a moment to think. “The question is both the purpose of right living and the possibility for right living, is it not?”
“Go on, my son,”
“On the one hand, the purpose of right living is to make possible a life filled with the Presence of God. But right living is not merely a matter of good intentions but of the actual completion of the Law. Be holy for I am holy is the Divine rule.” Benjamin rose from his couch to walk as he spoke.
“But who of us can make a claim to holiness before God? Is it possible for us to live rightly? Is it possible for us to perfectly keep the Law of God in all respects?” Benjamin began to pace along the wall behind the other guests.
“That is why God also instituted the sacrifices to make atonement for the sin he knew would be committed,” Gamaliel said, watching Benjamin.
Benjamin turned back to face his grandfather, a challenge in his eyes. “Does that mean that God’s standard and expectation of holiness was lowered by the fact that he made provision for the atonement of the sin that he knew would be committed?”
“Of course not.” He answered his own question. “God both demanded holiness and made provisions for sin, a contradictory position to say the least if the Law, by itself, was sufficient protection for the people to bear the Presence and the Glory of God in their midst.”
Benjamin strode back and forth along the wall, behind the couches as he made his points. The heads of everyone in the room followed him.
“We have already established that the sacrifices of lambs and goats, in and of themselves, are not enough. The ritual law is not sufficient protection by itself. God demands also a contrite heart, a pure heart, and true holiness.”
Benjamin scratched his thin beard absently, his eyes ablaze as he spoke.
“But we cannot fulfill that moral law perfectly. We are caught between the two, caught upon the horns of the dilemma, without protection and without recourse. All of our efforts to complete the moral and ritual law mean nothing if that is all there is.” He paused. The room was quiet, holding their collective breath, all eyes on Benjamin.
“There must be more.” Benjamin clapped his hands together loudly, making them jump. “The character and holiness of God demands it.”
Gamaliel lifted his bushy eyebrows as he listened to the strength of Benjamin’s conviction. The most disturbing thing was that it made sense. There was a truth here that Gamaliel had never before contemplated and it bothered him profoundly.
“I once had a student, Saul of Tarsus. He used to say that the Law was simply a pointer to sin, a daily demonstration of our need for atonement, a clear indication that the heart of man had not yet changed, the nature of man not yet dealt with.”
“Yes, grandfather, exactly.” Benjamin sat down on the edge of his couch intense and focused as he spoke to his grandfather, willing him to see, to believe.
“The Law, as perfect and holy as it is, only condemns us because of our inability to live up to it. We sin, whether by intention or not, and the only thing we can do to atone for our fault is to kill small helpless animals to take our place? No, both the moral and ritual law only shows our rebellious natures for what they are and point the way to a better provision for sins than the blood of goats and bulls. The Law is, perhaps, the greatest of all the Messianic prophecies.”
A better provision for sins, Gamaliel repeated it to himself again, a small spark of hope flaring in his heart. Yes, it made sense.
“For a time it was a question of obedience to bring our sacrifices together with a contrite heart before the Lord.” Benjamin said. “It was the Lord God, himself, who instituted the sacrificial system after all.” Heads nodded. “But, ultimately, there is no power in the blood of animals when the blood of man is required. The sacrifices, themselves, must point to more holy blood that would be shed once and for all, for the sins of the world.”
Gamaliel nodded in agreement. That much he was beginning to accept.
“Grandfather, it’s not merely a question of keeping outward rules and regulations but rather a question of the heart.” Benjamin laid his hand upon his own heart. “The purpose of the Law is simply to lay bare our rebellion, to make clear that it is not merely our sin but our sinful natures that have to be dealt with.”
“I’m afraid rebellion is our way of life whether it is always obvious or not. Our hearts do not fully hunger for him and seek him in every decision, in every aspect of our lives. Our hearts rebel at the thought of any other master than ourselves. Our hearts are not holy. They are not set apart, entirely submitted to the loving instruction of its true owner. We were born in rebellion and we nourish that rebellion even as our lips profess our love for God. Is that not true of all of us?” Benjamin looked around the room, an expectant look on his face.
“Perhaps you are right, my young scholar,” Gamaliel said with his head bowed low but he was not that convinced of rebellion in his own heart. It had been unintentional, a mistake, a lapse in judgment, nothing more. He was a good man. He sincerely attempted to keep the law as best he could and, when he failed, he relied on God’s provision through the sacrifices and Temple ritual to earn him the forgiveness of the God he had followed all of his life.
It wasn’t his fault. It wasn’t his fault.
Gabriel watched as Prince Bashan laughed at Gamaliel’s blindness. Rebellion was not always intentional, but it was rebellion nevertheless. The demon prince had broken off his storytelling to check on Gamaliel but he was not worried. He had years of experience in keeping the truth from Gamaliel’s mind.
Gabriel kept a close eye on the demon prince and watched as he went back to his own storytelling, full of arrogant self-aggrandizement. Finally, he relaxed and turned his attention back to Gamaliel and Benjamin and the Passover Seder that was almost over.
What mankind did not seem to realize is that they lived in a just universe. Sooner or later every human being had to face the Almighty God and give an account of his life.
But no, the problem was even deeper than that. The old rabbi probably looked forward to settling accounts with the Almighty. That was his blindness. He actually believed that he was in the right, that he had nothing to fear from the justice of God.
Perhaps humans simply had no concept of what real justice was all about. Did they not understand that justice demanded that every broken vessel be repaired like new, every broken relationship, every hurtful word, every careless gesture that brought pain to another be made as if it had never happened. That was true justice. In a world where the possibility of hurt and selfishness and pain were real possibilities, there must also be a way to put things right. Not partially. Not the best they can with an apology and a promise not to do it again, but really and truly as if it had not happened in the first place.
That was the point after all.
It should not have happened in the first place. None of this pain and hurt and selfishness should have happened in the first place. Sin had no place in the perfect creation of God. The fact that it existed at all was the creation of rebellion. To correct the wrong, to purge this blemish on creation, the ones responsible had to make it as if it had never happened.
That is true justice. That is the justice of God.
It took little imagination to realize that this was beyond the reach of mankind. He was at fault, he had made the mess but he could not clean it up. It took very little experience in this world to realize how unsafe it was, how dangerous it could be. Every relationship was fraught with dangers, with hurts, with resentments and bitterness. These things were not entirely healed with words of apology or even with tears of regret.
Knowing it was impossible, knowing that all men were in the same condition, with the same weakness and inability to make their wrongs truly right again, a new standard was instinctively accepted by everyone, a new standard that was much easier to live with. A partial justice based on good intentions and promises of more careful behavior in the future. And a further justice full of threats and punishments, laws and enforcement and the sinking despair of knowing that it still won’t be enough to right the wrong, to bring back the dead, to restore marriages, to heal the hurts of a world in rebellion against her Creator.
To believe that this history of broken relationships and partially healed wounds that every human took to his or her grave could be so easily forgotten by Almighty God was the sheerest folly. The justice of God could not be blind to the damage done. No matter if human justice has been satisfied. No matter if every effort has been made to repair the damage. It was not enough unless it put things back the way things were before the sin had been committed in the first place. It was an impossible demand but an entirely just one.
And that was the key.
That was the first step. To recognize the problem. To recognize their own inability to make things right, to heal the wounds they have inflicted on others, to achieve true justice on earth. It begins with humility. It begins with a heartfelt cry to God in recognition of their own inadequacy before the justice of God.
That was where the old rabbi was blind. That was why Prince Bashan was so sure of himself. He had built a fortress strong and sure in the life of Gamaliel, the fortress of spiritual pride. Gamaliel’s love for the traditions, his great understanding of the Torah and even his position of respect among the people, threatened to become more important than simply following God with a humble heart.
But Gabriel also knew that Gamaliel truly desired to please God. That was why he was here; to see if love would, in the end, conquer pride in the old Rabbi’s life.
The Angel of the Lord had come. He was a Divine Being but he was not the Majesty upon the Throne. He was a mystery yet to be revealed. He was Gabriel’s commander in chief. He was the Word, the Actor, the Warrior of God. He was called the Angel of the Lord but he was no angel. Now he was about to reveal himself to Joshua and take command of the armies that would invade and conquer the Promised Land.
Gabriel was excited by the prospect of another battle against the powers of the Evil One. His battles in the spiritual realm would now reflect the battles won on earth by the armies of Isra´el. The weapons at the disposal of this new nation of warriors would include the conventional weapons of human warfare enhanced with the most powerful force known to man, faith in the promises of God. After all, God had promised them this land, as much to bring judgment on the wicked nations living there as to fulfill his promise to Avraham that his descendants would inherit this land.
In any event, the people of Isra´el would have to be involved. It was a question of training them in the true battle, the battle of faith. In response to their faith, God would act on their behalf and drive the nations out. The land was promised to them but they would still have to lay claim to it, they would have to fight for it even though outnumbered. It would be a question of faith, first and last. Their lives would be on the line and the lives of their women and children.
One generation lost the battle before they had even begun, and now, this new generation was about to enter in and take possession of the land they had been promised. They had crossed over the Jordan and now faced their first test of faith, Jericho.
And the Angel of the Lord had come to take command of the armies of the Lord.
When Joshua was near Jericho, he raised his eyes and saw a man standing there before him, grasping a naked sword. His heart was beating hard. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea for him to walk out alone in the night to look at Jericho. Still, how did this man get past the guards he had set?
Joshua walked toward him.
“Are you with us or with our enemies?” As he walked he unsheathed his own sword, unafraid but cautious. For some reason, the closer he went the more uneasy he became, but he did not believe that this man was an enemy.
He had not moved nor made any sound and Joshua could not see his face for it was hidden in shadow. With sudden premonition, Joshua realized that this was no ordinary man, no human warrior at all.
The stranger’s voice confirmed his suspicions at once. He answered Joshua’s challenge. “I am captain of the army of Yahweh, and now I have come –”
But Joshua was already falling on his face to the ground and worshiped him. “What are my Lord’s commands to his servant?” Joshua wanted no doubts as to who was in charge.
“Take your sandals off your feet, for the place you are standing on is holy.”
Whether it was the Angel of the Lord, or Mosheh himself; whether it was the sacrifices and rituals of the Tabernacle or later in the Temple; whether it was the moral law or the cleansing rules for health and hygiene; on all sides, from every angle, in every corner and niche of the life of Isra´el, there were indications of something more, something needed, something not yet complete. The mark of the One who was yet to come was there for those who had eyes to see.
Mosheh, himself, spoke of another Prophet, one like himself who would come as a mediator between man and God. David spoke of a king that, like him, would also be a warrior. The prophets spoke of a Servant, who would suffer for his people, a Branch that would appear and rule with integrity and righteousness and bring peace to the nations. His name would be Emmanuel, born of a virgin, of the lineage of David, in the town of Beth-lehem.
The prophecies detailed his birth, his life, his death. They told in detail where he would live and what he would do, what he looked liked and how he would be received. The prophets spoke of that day, but they did not see its fulfillment.
Gabriel was aware of the fact that many diverse prophets and holy men had built up a picture of the coming Maschiach over the years that was remarkably accurate. So accurate, in fact, that only one person could fulfill every aspect of it. So accurate, that it would have to be a miracle from God to orchestrate all of the details in such a way as to leave no doubt who the Maschiach would be.
And so it was.
Some of the prophecies were forthright and clear, leaving no room for questions. Other prophecies were less clear and only recognized as Messianic in hindsight, once the Maschiach was identified. He was prefigured in the lives and the ministries of all the great warriors of faith and yet he was different, he was unique, he was Divine. Like Mosheh, he would inaugurate a new age, a new covenant. Like David, he would rule his people and bring them peace and rest. Like the Prophets, he would teach the people the ways of Yahweh and be at odds with the ruling religious establishment and, ultimately, be killed. Unlike them, he would also be raised to life again.
He would be a warrior-king and a suffering servant at the same time, for his battle is like no other and his victory will bring redemption to mankind.
Gabriel sang in his heart, a spontaneous response of praise filling his heart.
Shalamar responded, their spirits in unison, their song on a higher level than could be detected by the demonic guardians in the room below them.
Gamaliel returned the discussion to the Passover story.
“The Passover lamb,” he said, “whose blood was shed to protect the people from the Destroyer, the Judgment of God, was also a sign and a symbol of the blood of the Maschiach to be shed for all men?”
“Already shed for all men.” Benjamin corrected him patiently. “Yes, grandfather.”
“Then answer me this, my young scholar,” Gamaliel said. “Why must blood be spilt at all? Is that not a rather gruesome way to deal with the rebellion of the human heart?” He was working through his concerns out loud. “Why is there no forgiveness without the shedding of blood?” He had never thought to ask that question before, but now it seemed important. Especially if the blood that is shed is no longer simply the blood of lambs and goats, but rather the blood of the Maschiach, perhaps even his own blood. He looked up at Benjamin.
It had become obvious to everyone in the room that the roles had truly been reversed, Benjamin becoming the teacher and he the student. That was all right with him. With the awareness that he was taking his grandson seriously, would come a deeper respect for Benjamin’s answers, at least among some. That was good. A man should have the protection and support of his family at least. After all, a time was coming when he would not be there to protect him any longer.
“We must look beyond our own people,” Benjamin said, “and beyond our own nation to understand what God has done through the Maschiach. Therefore we must also look to a more ancient script that describes the ways of God before the birth of our nation. To understand the heart of man and the ways of God one must go to the beginning.”
“It is in the beginning that we will see why it is that the blood of the Maschiach, not just the blood of lambs and goats, must be shed for the forgiveness of sins.”
The Temptations of the Cross by Bert Amsing
Copyright 2012 by vanKregten Publishers. All rights reserved.