The garden was beautiful beyond words.
Forever after Gabriel would cherish the memory of the pristine beauty and awesome splendor of those Days of Artistry. The Majesty had decided this new thing, this wonder, and the Word had worked His power and the Presence had filled it to overflowing with life and abundance. It was breathtaking. It was intriguing. It was filled with surprise and wonder as Adonai Elohim Almighty wrote the secrets of His deepest thoughts into the fabric of this new world.
“Michael, over here. Look at this.”
Gabriel loved to explore this combination of energy and matter, this world of bodies and space that interacted in such a strange way.
Michael joined him in an instant, as excited as a young colt in a new meadow. They hovered over the garden, their wings slowly and majestically beating the air, talking excitedly.
They could peer into the intricacies of the smallest atom and see there the power of the Word holding together the very essence of material things. They could feel the pull of the earth as they soared the heavens and see the same truth holding the entire universe together even as it moved and changed and strained to pull itself apart.But it was the living energy that permeated this new creation that was the most wondrous thing of all.
“Do you see it, Michael?” Gabriel asked, his arm sweeping across the new garden God had planted.
“What? I don’t see it. Where?”
“All of it,” Gabriel said. “Life.”
It teemed, it swarmed, it flowed through and around everything and continued to create and recreate and bring into existence even more life. It was a continuous river infused and alive with the Presence of Almighty God.
Gabriel and Michael marveled and wondered at their discoveries and they were filled with the joy of finding a new depth to the heart and mind of their Master. The Great Halls of Heaven echoed with their joyous renditions of praise.
Gabriel was amazed once more as he heard the created world itself join in the praises to God. He heard the seas roar and the birds sing and the lions cavorting with their young and even the silent majesty of the mountains join together in an ever-present symphony of praise to their Maker.
“Listen,” Gabriel said, watching expectantly as Michael turned his head to hear it, first in one direction and then another.
Wonder of wonders that the very creation instinctively would praise their Maker in the performance of their duty, in the displaying of their beauty, in the demonstration of their created abilities. Without mind or personality, yet the symphony of praise was built into the very fabric of their being.
Even more, this symphony of praise was a message to an inquiring mind that the Creator was there, that He was enthroned in Majesty above the heavens and He was worthy of all praise.
A message to whom? He and his brothers knew this deepest truth of the heavens and lived within it and gloried in it every moment of their existence. This message must be for someone else, and somehow he knew that the Days of Artistry were not yet complete.
In the beauty of innocence, as the morning dew graced the garden with its fresh, pearl drops of nectar, the King and Queen came walking in the sun. Hand in hand they strolled through the garden, a wreath of flowers adorning her hair, a smile of contentment and peace upon their faces.
The man was strong; his muscles rippling like tiny wavelets upon the sea of his bronze skin. He walked with the smooth grace of a lion, supple and full of an energy barely kept under control.
But it was their eyes that most intrigued Gabriel – the eyes that were the window to the soul. In them he saw the first and the last wonder of all – the glory of the image of God, Himself.
And it was a sight that Gabriel cherished.
Such a wondrous beginning so quickly tarnished, so quickly bent and broken by the deception of the Evil One, as he sowed his seeds of doubt and unbelief. It was a travesty of mythic proportions.
“The problem with man,” Michael said to Gabriel as they watched the couple walking through the lush, green forest “is that he is made of the dust.”
“Ah, but that is the thing,” Gabriel said. “They are dust created in His most Holy image and given life, and awareness of self, the most precious gift in the universe.”
That was what Lucifer, his older brother, could not seem to understand. He saw only the dust and the mud but not the glory. Or perhaps he didn’t want to see it. The evil cancer had already begun to spread its poison in Lucifer and the creation of man had only given it a focus, a direction for his evil to work its deception.
What set Lucifer off in the end was the revelation that the angels would find their fulfillment in serving these sons of earth, and in the end these earthbound creatures would ascend to a place of honor above even the mighty angels of God. This Lucifer could not accept, and, although his rebellion had already begun, and had been tolerated for a time – Gabriel had wondered at that – it would all come out into the open in a small garden at the headwater of the two mighty rivers of Mesopotamia where Satan hoped to carve out an empire to rival that of heaven.
“In the Book of Beginnings there are many examples of blood sacrifices,” Benjamin said. “This was before Isra´el became a nation and before Temple worship and sacrifices had begun.”
“Some were accepted, such as the sacrifice that Abel, the younger son of our first parents, made in faith to God.It was a symbol of his relationship with his Father Creator. Already he knew that the first fruits of the harvest were to be given over to the Creator as a sign of faith in his provision.”
Benjamin frowned in thought, sitting down once again on his couch. “But the sacrifice of his older brother, Cain, the firstborn, given out of reluctant religious duty to placate a being more powerful than he, was not accepted. Cain became angry and so the first blood was spilt upon the ground in the name of religious envy and pride.”
“Heathen sacrifices like Cain’s,” Benjamin said, “are only a pale repetition of forms and rituals imprinted upon the minds and hearts of mankind from the beginning though they are done without understanding and without effect. Perverted to the worship of the Evil One instead, they were a doomed attempt to keep the blessings and curses of life under control.”
He looked around at his audience, keeping each person in sight. “But the act of sacrifice and blood letting is as ancient as sin itself. For from the very beginning, since fig leaves were exchanged for garments of skin, the innocent have died to cover the shame of the guilty.” Benjamin looked to his grandfather for confirmation.
“Yes, but it was God, Himself, who made the clothes out of skins for the man and his wife,” Gamaliel pointed out.
“Exactly so,” Benjamin said. “The man and woman had no authority to spill blood. It had to be God, himself, who authorized this temporary measure as a practical way of dealing with the immediate effects of the rebellion.”
“A temporary measure?”
“Yes,” Benjamin said. “In their nakedness and shame they sought to hide from the face of God. Instinctively they knew that their nakedness would no longer be a symbol of their innocence but of their guilt. And so the protection of innocence in a world under the loving authority of their Father would be traded for the vulnerability of guilt and shame in a world that was no longer safe for anyone. Clothes would become a practical necessity in a cursed and dangerous world.”
“He had promised them death if they ate of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” Gamaliel said. “Why did God not complete his word immediately?”
“God is always faithful to complete his word,” Benjamin said, “but he is also merciful. Even so, death was a present fact and an unavoidable reality the moment that sin and rebellion entered the heart of man.”
Benjamin looked around the room. “That brief space,” he said, “between present fact and unavoidable reality is what we call life and it is nothing but a gift of God’s grace. God opened a small but brief space in time for the possibility of a divine miracle that could save his children from their own folly. That miracle is the Maschiach.”
Gabriel had an angelic wisdom and intelligence beyond even that of his spiritual brothers and he loved to delve into the mysteries of his Master’s dealings with the sons of earth, whom he had sworn to protect and serve.
He saw death in a way that man did not. Somehow, someway, the creating of man had been unique and mysterious in a way he did not fully understand.
His nature, his essence, was not merely his personality, not merely a self-consciousness or a localization of energy in his mind. It was all these things and more. At heart, man’s nature was relational. He was created to be utterly dependent on a conscious relationship with God, a conscious fellowship of love with his Creator. That was also partly true in man’s relationship with other men and women. There is no individual that is not also part of a whole that includes others. Every man needed others to survive, to develop, to be everything that they could be. But, even more, they needed their Creator, their Father. Whether they realized it or not, they could not exist even for a moment without the intervention and support and sustenance of Almighty God. But it was more than that. It was a conscious fellowship with Elohim Adonai that was the key to human existence, fulfillment and happiness.
That was the wonder and the beauty of it. Man’s nature was created according to his purpose. His purpose was to love the Lord his Maker with all of his heart, soul, strength and mind. Without that he could not survive. He would be dead both spiritually and, then, physically. The physical merely the result of the spiritual, unless God intervened. And so with the rebellion came death – immediate, unequivocal and final death, even if the physical result was postponed for a time.
Gabriel wasn’t sure whether it was grace or judgment that sustained mankind in a living spiritual death for years before natural death put an end to their misery. But it was necessary for their own salvation to give them time to find their way home and be healed.
The danger was that man would get used to it, treat it as normal, this living death, and quench every investigation, every heart cry, every glimmer of desire for something more.
Gabriel knew that it had happened just that way. The danger had become reality in the hearts of man.
Akbar crouched in the darkness looking toward the glow of light coming from beneath the covers on the windows of Gamaliel’s house. The small plaza gave them a good view without being seen themselves.
It was darker than he had expected. The thin, pale light from the few torches brought by the guards did not seem to penetrate the darkness more than a few feet. A cloud cover blocking out the moon and the stars gave the night an eerie feel to it. He shuddered.
The guards were seated in small groups leaning against the wall of one of the houses ringing the plaza, talking quietly or dozing for a few moments. They were used to the waiting.
He was under strict orders not to bother Gamaliel until after midnight so that his Passover celebration would not be interrupted. The High Priest did not want to give Gamaliel any cause to rally his supporters against Ya´acov and his plans. Caution was the watchword that night.
So why was he here so early, with a grumbling, unhappy troop of guards waiting for midnight? He decided to settle down with as much patience as he could muster and just wait. Maybe they would finish early and he could get this over and done with.
As he waited, he nursed his hatred, coaxing and feeding it like a tiny flame ready to burst into a roaring, consuming fire when it was time to act.
“Adonai Elohim warned them that they would die. But what did Adam and Eve know of death in a garden full of the wonders and richness of life?” Gamaliel was quite enjoying himself now. The audience, though largely forgotten, had been engrossed in the conversation from the beginning.
“They knew only that it was something to be avoided and rejected,” Benjamin said, “since it would be punishment from their Holy Father and Creator whom they loved with a sinless joy. That was enough to deter them, just as the displeasure of a beloved grandfather has far more weight than the punishment itself.” Benjamin smiled at his grandfather.
“So all of creation would bear the punishment together with mankind for the sin they had committed?” Gamaliel said, getting back to the discussion at hand. “Death and disease and destruction and the shaking of earth and the fearsome power of the storm and sea, would become man’s inheritance?”
“Yes, even though man was given mastery over the earth in his perfection, the earth would not bow so readily to his will in his sin and rebellion,” Benjamin said.
“To Yahweh belong the earth and all it holds,” he quoted the Psalmist. “Ultimately our authority on earth is delegated to us by God and he would not allow the unrestrained usage of earth’s resources, his kingdom resources, to those who have rebelled against him.”
“The earth would not submit so easily, the blessings of God would not be so full and so easily bestowed, the beasts would not trust a master who would rebel against their Creator, instinctive though it would be. They who had received their names from man would now become wild beasts and dangerous. The entire earth would be a reflection of the uneasy truce between God and his rebellious people.”
“Accursed be the soil because of you.
With suffering shall you get your food from it every day of your life. It shall yield you brambles and thistles, and you shall eat wild plants. With sweat on your brow shall you eat your bread, until you return to the soil, as you were taken from it.
For dust you are and to dust you shall return.”
Gamaliel recited the ancient curse quietly in confirmation of Benjamin’s own interpretation.
“And the pain of childbirth shall itself be a reminder to every woman that her part in the rebellion is not forgotten,” Benjamin said. Ruth moved to a more comfortable position, keeping her eyes on the ground. “God will continue to grant life but only in the context of pain to remind each one of us that all is not well with this world that we have been born into.”
It was beautiful in its own way, this delving into the beginning of things. It was here that the primal truths were found, and when discovered and understood there was a process of enlightenment that all men craved – to understand their world, their suffering, and the guilty sin of their own hearts.
But was understanding enough? Gamaliel had spent a lifetime trying to understand, and now all of his understanding was put in doubt and new things were being revealed, as if this Yeshua of Nazaret had the right to throw an entirely different light on the history of the Jewish people.
But then a long forgotten phrase came to mind.
The mysteries of God are made known in the fullness of time.
Where had he heard those words before? Oh yes, it was Saul. It was one of his favorite sayings. He had been talking about Yeshua.
There was movement. There, see it?
Akbar strained to see what his mind was telling him but he wasn’t sure.
He fixed his eyes on it. It was near Gamaliel’s house. There was a darker place against the darkness of the house. It moved!
He saw it. But what was it? A shape, a solid piece of darkness, a movement, and then nothing more.
Akbar waited, holding his breath, not daring to move, but there was no other movement. He let his breath out in a long careful sigh. Why was he so frightened? He was here on official business, and nobody had the right to stop him.
But then the reason for his uneasiness came to him. Not for a moment had he thought of the movement as human. His eyes grew wider and his breath shorter. What tricks were these that the gloomy darkness of the night was playing on his mind?
Woopph! The light from the torches were snuffed out, all of them at the same time.
“Get those torches lit,” Akbar said his voice sharp. But the guards were already at work.
The problem was, he had not felt a breeze.
His grandfather began again with another question. He still had the focus and concentration of a man much younger and Benjamin had to stay sharp.
“So the world as we experience it with all of its death and disease and destruction is not normal. What of the beauty and grace of creation that we see each day, what of that?”
“It is an uneasy truce, a temporary measure, a compromise of sorts that God created after the rebellion,” Benjamin said, deep in thought. “Therefore the world must have aspects of both curse and blessing, both evil and good.”
The answers seemed to come so easily to his lips. What was happening?
“Not even the advent of evil could entirely erase the beauty and majesty of God’s artistry in creation,” Benjamin said. “The world’s blessings would always remain a mute testimony to the goodness of God, while its curses would testify to the civil war that rages within God’s Kingdom.”
Benjamin was a born teacher and he knew when he had a captive audience.
“Certainly, we can rejoice with the Psalmist in praise to God for the wonders of his creation. But it is His creation, not ours. We are not the uncontested masters of this earth, though we pretend to be. We are in fact dangerous to creation and creation is dangerous to us because of our sin and rebellion towards the Creator.”
“A mirror of the uneasy truce between God and man,” Gamaliel said, as if to remind himself of the essential truth, “until God completes his plan to win the hearts of man back to himself.”
“And man has sought to dominate man and creature ever since, whether it is the ancient civilizations of Babylonia and Persia or the might of the Roman Empire,” Benjamin said.
His grandfather was no fool. He knew that it was dangerous to make his faith in Yeshua public. But this was important and could not be avoided.
The truth would have to be its own protection.
Gabriel could see that Benjamin was uncomfortable. He didn’t blame him one bit. So far the demons had not caught on to the change in direction that had taken place during this Passover Seder. He knew that the Presence had blinded them for a time until God´s purposes for the night would be fulfilled. Gabriel relaxed and turned his thoughts to the enigmas he still struggled with in his own mind.
The greatest mystery of all is the mystery of sin.
He was no stranger to the power of temptation, for that evil had invaded also the Halls of Heaven and had been embraced by fully one-third of the angelic hosts. He, himself, had felt the icy breath of evil desire upon his own soul but had not fallen. It was not the temptation but the sin that he had no experience of. It remained for him a mystery.
Lucifer had taken upon himself the form of a creature of the earth – a serpent, long and lithe. Although he hated these creatures of the dust, he had to become one in order to interact with this new race of sentient beings. It was his opportunity, his one chance to become the Master with his own followers. Certainly he had the support of the angels that had come to his side but they could not fulfill his deep craving for worship. They knew the glory and the truth of the existence of the Almighty God and they could deny Him their worship but they could not truly worship anything or anyone else. No, what Lucifer needed was someone he could deceive; someone who could be blinded, whose natural inclination to worship could be twisted and directed toward him. He could not create, only pervert and destroy, but whether counterfeit or real, the desire for glory goaded him on.
The evil thing within him was not prone to wisdom, only craftiness and deception. Otherwise Lucifer would have been able to see that, right from the beginning, by taking on the form of a serpent, he was simply making a fool of himself, taking on the form of the very thing he despised, wanting what was not his to receive. In his craving for glory, he was willing to abase himself even in his own eyes. The perversity of sin is equaled only by its blindness.
And this is what he wanted me to join him in? Gabriel could not fathom it. To grovel in the dust and deceive the innocent only to get that which will never satisfy because it doesn’t belong to you?
No, Gabriel shook his head, I will never understand it.
But that same evil had taken root in the hearts of men as well. How could they not understand that to have the knowledge of good and evil was one thing, but to survive it was another thing altogether? It was not a knowledge that belonged to the children. It belonged only to the Father. Only he could see far enough, know deep enough, understand clearly enough to discern between good and evil. And only he had the power and integrity to choose the good, even to create the good out of the ruins of evil.
For the angelic hosts, it was a temptation to glory but for mankind a temptation to knowledge. But both were a grasping after what did not belong to them, a craving for a poison that would sicken them. Evil would always be perverse and irrational.
Could they not understand? We are the created, he is the Creator. Blessed be His Holy Name! Never will we bridge that gap, and never should we, for even in the attempt we are doomed to destroy ourselves.
Knowledge! But more than that, for with knowledge came authority to act or not to act, to choose the good or the evil, to decide for oneself what path to take, as if the path of evil was just as much an option as the path of good. It was no option at all for those who loved God. Knowledge was the temptation but rebellion the act.
Man desired to know the ways of evil, and evil became his bedfellow. Man desired to control evil, and finds himself controlled instead and, as a result, man lost his authority, usurped by the stronger partner. For this reason man lives in spiritual darkness, neither knowing God, nor the things of God.
It was a wonderment to Gabriel who lived in the shining light of the glory of God every moment, even when he was engaged in work upon the earth. It was his environment; it was his atmosphere, his sustenance to bathe in the glory of the Majesty of the Most High God.
Even the demons had to endure it, although they feared it as much as they craved it. They cover themselves in darkness and absorb the light of God’s glory like a black hole, turning it from brilliant truth into the darkness of lies and deception, of fear and despair. They know the truth of it but it will never set them free. For them it was a living hell to see the glory of God and to know they would never attain it. Their depravity was obvious to all of heaven, if not to themselves.
Perhaps that is why God keeps the truth from mankind. Upon leaving the garden, man no longer looked upon God with his natural eye; sinful man could not do so and hope to survive. Certainly mankind would fall to his knees in worship to the King of Glory if he were to reveal Himself as he did in the cool of the evening in Eden. But the worship would be one of fear and despair, and would lead to death. It was not the kind of worship that God wanted from his children.
His revelation would have to be veiled, the power of his glory muted until the fullness of time. He would reveal his character and his love in the lives and experiences of real men and women throughout the ages and have the stories written so that all could see the truth. He would have his will written down and explained to the people so that they could understand the good, his good, and follow the path of blessing. He would inscribe his plan in the blood of animals and sacrifices to give the people hope that the authority and dominion of Evil would one day be broken.
It was not God’s glory, his power, his might that man doubted in the garden but rather his character and his love for them. And so God would woo his people back, he would demonstrate his love so that there would be no doubt and he would win for himself a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people from among all the peoples of the earth. He would love them and they would love him in return, with all their hearts. They would sing the praises of a God who called them out of the darkness into his wonderful light.
A song of praise burst forth from Gabriel in response to this great love and wisdom of God that would dare the fires of hell itself for the lives of his people. Gabriel did not have to think about it, he simply did it, the most natural thing in the world.
Gabriel knew about love too. He had also learned it in the shadow of evil and in the presence of temptation. It always filled him with spiritual songs of praise for his Father.
He could see their eyes glowing white and yellow in the darkness, humans and demons waiting together in the plaza. He could sense the impatience of the Special Forces, wanting to get on with it, the bloodlust mounting within them like a pregnant volcano. If they had their way, blood would be spilt this evening one way or another.
Shalamar knew that the key to his strategy was not the demons but the humans. If he could keep them at bay until morning, the Special Forces could do nothing. It would not be easy, but it could be done.
Shalamar had hit upon the idea of using his circle of guards as shadowy, non-human figures in the darkness, barely visible to the human eye. It would make them hesitate, wonder, perhaps even fear approaching Gamaliel’s house. It would only work until the morning light but that should be sufficient. He hoped. It was time to make his report to Gabriel inside the house and Shalamar turned to go.
Wait. Over there, on the other side of the plaza. Behind Akbar and his ruffians there was movement.
Shalamar hesitated a moment but then decided it was nothing. In his shadowy, half-human form his eyes could not penetrate the darkness and it was too dangerous to reveal himself outside the house. It was too early anyway. He turned toward the house and glided gently into the rafters without a stir or a sound.
Gabriel kept his eye on Shalamar for a moment, a frown upon his face. Shalamar had indicated that all was ready but there was worry there as well. Gabriel knew his friend. What was bothering him? But it was not the time for talk. He would just have to be patient.
After a time, Gabriel returned to his thoughts to ponder again the differences between himself and his earthly brothers. One way or the other he would get to the bottom of it. The more he understood, the more useful he could become in the battle for the hearts of men. Although they had fallen, many would rise again. That was the glorious truth he had seen over and over. Not so the angels. Once they had decided for or against God, they were confirmed for all time in their chosen relationship with the Almighty God, their Creator.
The fall of man was not the same as the fall of the angelic hosts. The same in nature, but not in origin. Lucifer, his brother, had nursed the love for glory that had been born within him because of his high station. He had been given the greatest of all positions in the hierarchy of Heaven, to protect the glory of the throne, and authority of the Majesty of God Himself.
To whom much is given, Gabriel remembered the ancient truth, much is required.
This exalted position had its own temptations. He was created to give praise, not to receive it. He was created to lead the heavenly hosts to the throne of God in song and worship, not to lead them away. He was created to protect and increase the glory of the Holy of Holies, but Lucifer became the first betrayer, the first Judas, the first to take the gift and awareness of self and make it a curse instead.
Mankind followed willingly into the Abyss. For that willingness they would pay the price. But God was not unaware of the fact that they had been deceived. Because of that, there was a way to redeem them. He would not give them up without a fight. He would break this unholy alliance between the Evil One and mankind and bring a mighty warrior to do battle and crush the head of the Evil One under his feet and so bring salvation to his people.
Gabriel was awash with the thrill of the boldness of the plan. He had played his part and he would continue to do so. He, too, had changed and had grown and had learnt through this encounter with Evil, and the thought of the ongoing transformation he was experiencing excited him even now. And there was more to come, perhaps the best to come. He would ask and see what answers would be given to him for the battle ahead.
“But why bother with the truce at all? Why not let Adam and Eve die and just start all over again?” The question came as a shock to everyone, even more so to the one who had asked. For it had not come from Gamaliel or Benjamin but from Ruth.
Benjamin watched her quickly ducked her head as if expecting a blow, avoiding the accusing eyes of her cousins, and made as if to rise and go to the kitchen where she knew that Jewish women should be in the first place.
As she made the move to rise from her seat, Gamaliel put a restraining hand on her arm and took her chin and gently forced her to look at him. Benjamin could see her eyes try to dart away, already becoming moist in anticipation of the rebuke.
But Gamaliel smiled.
“Ruth, my love, why am I so surprised that your mind is as sharp as young Benjamin’s?”
He said it so gently, so sincerely, that Benjamin, and Ruth weren’t sure that they heard him correctly.
His grandfather went on. “I must apologize to you, my dear Ruth, for engaging in this wagging of tongues without you,” he said. “In this household you may always speak freely, for you are a true daughter of Isra´el, and what is decided here this night will affect you as well.”
Benjamin’s heart began to thump loudly in his chest. Something would be decided here tonight. His grandfather was taking him seriously and he was close, he was so close.
Benjamin threw a quick prayer to God that he had no words for, just a deeply felt groaning cry thrown to the heavens on behalf of his beloved grandfather. Then he turned to Ruth and smiled.
“The question was a good one,” he said. “Why bother with the truce at all? Why not just bring judgment immediately and deal with the sin at its roots?”
“That would certainly have made it easier for us,” Gamaliel said, “for then we would have been born in holiness from holy, sinless parents and we would live out our lives without sin and evil to contend with.”
“I suppose God could have dealt with our first parents in that way,” Benjamin said, “and then recreated another set of first parents to procreate the world.”
His grandfather shook his head. “No, it wouldn’t work. Who is to say that the next set of first parents would not also fall to temptation sooner or later so long as the Evil One was around to tempt them? Evil, itself, must be dealt with.”
“Exactly so, grandfather,” Benjamin said. “But that is not all, nor is it the most important thing.”
Benjamin stopped and then looked up.
“The most important thing is the character of God. It is simply not his way to start over. He would not give Satan one inch in the battle for the lives of his people. Adam and Eve were his children, his firstborn, the first fruits of all who would come after. He loved them, they were precious to him and he would not give them up, just as he will fight for the lives of each one of us.”
Benjamin looked first at his grandfather, then Ruth, and then the rest of the room, each one in turn. Finally he turned his eyes upon Jubal, holding them there for a long, unsettling moment.
“Each one of us,” he said again.
The Temptations of the Cross by Bert Amsing
Copyright 2012 by vanKregten Publishers. All rights reserved.
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