Testing Voices (2)

(Modern Bringers     |     Part 2)

[To read Part 1 in this series, go to Words Falling to the Ground (1)]

More than 30 years ago I was in one of those junctions, where I really needed a clear direction from God. I took the time to seek Him, cleanse my heart from my own desires, and discuss my options with others I trusted so they could hold me accountable. I kept the Word open in front of my eyes, and waited. When I got my answer, it was so clear. So I stepped forward in that direction (sorry for the foggy facts. This story involves other people, which is why I can’t divulge more details).

A little while later, reality hit me in the face. What I thought will follow, did not happen. Yet I had a promise, so I held on to it and kept declaring, believing, waiting for the facts to change. It took nearly two years before I realized that what I thought God told me, was never going to happen.

I was in a crisis. So many foundations within me were shaken. “Why should I bother to hear Him on other issues? I argued. I did not question the fact He still speaks, but I lost any trust in my own ability to hear Him correctly. Fearing I will end up wasting more time by walking a path that would again be proven wrong, I just stopped asking.

No, I did not turn my back on God, but I did turn a deaf ear, and relied mostly on my own wisdom and logic. Alas, that turned out to be an even worse wasting of time since this time, the lesson did not just end with a broken heart, but with serious ramifications and a high price to pay.

So Many Voices

A couple of weeks ago I cuddled in my bed on a freezing and wet Saturday morning. Since this is our third lockdown in Israel, everything was supposed to be quiet, especially in the part of Jerusalem where I live. Yet a myriad of voices infiltrated through the closed windows and into my ear.

The narrow alley outside turned into a wind tunnel and intensified the sound of the wind. A handful of men were chanting ancient prayers in the next door synagogue. Above their hushed voices I heard the high pitch of a young lad who must have recently celebrated his Bar-Mitzva (therefore allowed to join the men in praying), but since his voice has not yet changed, it was stronger and clearer than the others’. And there were also the sounds of cheerful little children who were playing in the nearby playground.

A mayhem of voices demanding our attention constantly
(Editorial illustration for Mako Magazine by Pierre Kleinhouse)

“There are, it may be, so many kinds of voices in the world”, a verse popped up in my mind (1 Cor. 14:10-11). The original context is of the sounds we make when we speak in tongues, but I wondered: God, how well do Your children recognize Your voice in the current mayhem of noises?

Testing Is Noble

The mixture of prophetic voices whirling around the world has grown exponentially since the pandemic broke out, especially since November (when the results of the elections in the US were announced). Seems like millions of Christians went through a severe blow since Biden’s inauguration last week, as their last bit of hope was stifled.

This rather grim picture made me think: Lord, so many of Your children do not clearly recognize Your voice. Maybe we even fear the very possibility of hearing You clearly. Maybe we have a “good” explanation behind this fear, just like I had for many years.

Some have gone through a disillusioning experience at least once, and want to prevent it from ever happening again. Others would rather have someone else bring us Your message, just as the Israelites did at Sinai. As they saw the voices (interesting: they saw the voices, not heard them) and the sound of the shofar, they were filled with fear and cried to Moses: “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die” (Ex. 20:19). Moses tried to reassure them, but the people preferred to stand afar. He then approached the thick fog, to hear what God wanted to put in his mouth (V. 20-21).

Here is the problem: when we hear a message from someone else, that comes to us wrapped up as a prophecy, we still need to go back to Scripture and to God, and do that which the Jews of Berea did (Acts 17:11), right? If we must test the words others bring to us either way, then we cannot “save” ourselves the need to listen and discern. So why not just try to hear straight from Him to begin with?

Just wondering: if two great apostles would have come to a service and bring a message from God (as happened when Paul and Silas came to Berea), would us examining their sermons in light of Scripture have shown doubt on our part, or rather nobility and wisdom?

Training Others to Recognize His Voice

We teach the Body how to recognize the voice of God’s Word. That is excellent and extremely important. We also teach how to respect the voice of reason, and even the voice of science to some extent. What about the voice of God? Many times He speaks through all these means, but there is so much more to it.

I used to see various crossroads along my path, those situations in which we have to make a decision on something Scripture is not clear about, as an invitation to put together a once in a lifetime puzzle that God has prepared for me. A puzzle I was meant to decipher. According to this wrong method, various clues were hidden to some extent in the Bible, or in my circumstances, or in nature, in a word someone else says, in dreams and visions or in images I would see in my minds’ eye. If I was attentive to these clues, if I put them together carefully, making sure one confirms another and hopefully my hearts’ desire, I could hope that the final outcome be in accordance with God’s perfect will on the matter.

Gathering of clues

This approach is problematic because it turned the answer I was seeking into the end goal, and made my relationship with God secondary. It ignored something highly important: my ability to hear Him is a result of the depth and honesty that exists between us. It requires investment, trying and erring, getting to know His personality, studying the unique language by which He addresses me, receiving proper correction when it is needed, and above all – good will and enjoying one another.

Faces Vs. Presence

“The Holy Spirit’s presence at service today was so strong”; “God, I want to enter into Your presence”; “Bring me to Your presence” – we say it often, we sing it, we pray along these lines.

But… the word “presence” does not appear even once in the OT Hebrew. All these references to His presence or countenance speak in Hebrew about His Face. Or more accurately, His Faces (it is a plural noun in Hebrew). Similarly, in the NT, the Greek word for face (προσώπου – prosópon) is translated at times as “countenance”, “presence”, or yes, even “face” (see for example Lk 1:19; Acts 2:28, Mt. 6:16; 2 Cor. 3:7).

The result is a somewhat misleading understanding of the term “God’s presence”. The Bible calls us to seek God’s Face, not His presence. There is a difference between the two.

I can be in someone’s presence with my back turned to him,
not even aware he is in the same room

But things are different if it is his or her face that I encounter

Hearing His voice is not an experience I “enter” into whenever I want to know how to handle something, but a natural outcome of the time I spend with Him.

What If We Have Gotten it Wrong?

The way in which God spoke to His people in the OT is somewhat different than the way it happens today. In OT days, though He did speak directly to individuals, He mostly brought His word through designated prophets, regardless of their relationship with Him. In the NT era, the Holy Spirit resides within us. We can all hear God and read His Word, even bring it to others. But unlike OT days, nowadays – the prophetic voice must correlate to the relationship that person has with God.

One of the most detailed OT descriptions of the ability to hear God is attributed to someone who did not even bother to obey Him. This person had his eyes wide open; he could see visions of the Almighty; he would fall into some kind of a trance while seeing it; his accuracy was phenomenal, thus even in other countries people knew that whomever he blesses will indeed be blessed, and when he curses someone – this curse will hit the mark .

Numbers 22-24 tell this story of Balaam the sorcerer. The guy had a unique ability, yet his relationship with God was pretty problematic. He totally misunderstood the place Israel plays in God’s plan, did not recognize an angel even when he stood in front of him, and employed manipulation to bring about his own will.

The Path is Open

Since Yeshua’s crucifixion and the ripping of the veil, the way to the Holy of Holies is potentially open to each one of us. Once we enter through the narrow Gate, we can boldly approach the Throne of Mercy (Heb. 10:19-20). But the accuracy of what we bring depends on the level of intimacy we enjoy with the One whose glory dwells there, in the Holy of Holies.

I cannot just jump right into that spot, skipping the process that leads there. I can approach the Holy of Holies only by following the path that the priests did before they could enter that place. The words “getting closer” in Hebrew are derived from the same root of “sacrifice”. So in order to come near to God and look at His Face, a sacrifice is a must. I need to cleanse myself with blood (Bronze Altar), wash by the Laver with the water of the Word (v. 22) and so on.

Only when I get to the final destination will God show me what He wants me to bring to others, as he stated to Moses (Ex. 25:22). Yes, even Moses, who saw God face to face and heard Him so well on a regular basis, had to go through this process in order to bring what God had put in his mouth.

1… 2… 3… Testing

I am not belittling or mocking the fact that God sometimes brings His message through others. I want to be careful to not despise prophecies (Thess. 5:20), but I am also careful to test them (v. 21). Not just the messages – but the bringers as well.

Therefore there are a few things I need to know about the bringer before I complete my test. I am looking to taste some of the fruit of his (or her) relationship with God: how soft is their heart towards Him, how willing are they to receive correction, are they teachable or mostly hold monologues, are they aware of their weaknesses and are transparent about them, and what do they do if it turns out they were wrong?

I do take into account that people make mistakes. I don’t believe that prophets in our days are to be stoned and declared false ones, unless they insist on going forward in the same direction and refuse to own their mistakes. But I do want to see that they submit to some frame of leadership that helps them take off more of the old man that spoke a little too loud when they thought it was the voice of God they were hearing.

Oh, and one more thing: I also would like their apology to be at least equal in volume to that in which their prophecies were delivered. Otherwise, I’m not sure it really counts.

To be continued…

Words Falling to the Ground (1)

(Modern Bringers | Part 1)

Nearly two million people had already taken the Covid vaccine in this small country. Within the next couple of weeks, almost the entire nation will be vaccinated, in what seems to be “the biggest experiment on humans”. Due to the uniqueness of Israel – small nation, clear borders, health system that enables a quick access to doctors and nurses – “Pfeizer” had chosen us to be the first nation that will receive as many vaccine doses as we need, to show the whole world how it works.

When the first shots were given less than a month ago, I was surprised to find out how many believers in Yeshua were among them, and how excited they were to take it. I trust they took the time to consider all the ramifications beforehand, and I would love to know that their decision is proven as wise. But as of now, I count myself among those not taking it.

Is It Or Is It Not?

I have all these contradicting thoughts running through my mind: Some say this is the beginning of the age of the mark of the beast. Is it, or is it not? If it is, how is it possible that so many great people of God still take it? Is it safe health wise, or extremely not? Boatloads of data flood us, that amazingly contradicts itself. And since I have no scientific tools to fully examine any of these options in their fulness, I end up having to rely on others. So as of now – I prefer to watch and wait.

The vaccine debate exemplifies what happens when these two camps start to parade their disagreements on social media: “If you take the vaccine, you will become part of the ‘beast’ and no longer can be trusted”, warns one side. “If you do not take the vaccine, steer clear from me and my family”, proclaim some who stand for it.

I am most likely over reacting, but for the first time I can see how – given just certain circumstances – brothers and sisters in the Lord might consider giving away one another out of love, believing that that is what will keep the other side safe.

But How Can We Know What’s Right?

God, we need to hear Your voice clearly. Not only on this issue, but on every aspect. Experts on both sides declare their opinion loudly, and contribute from their own experience to the heated debate. But what do You say?

One sunny day Moses gathered 70 of Israel’s elders and presented them around the Tabernacle. Numbers 11 explains why: God was about to impart of His Spirit upon them, so that they may assist Moses and ease his heavy load (V. 17).

They all began to prophesy, and then ceased. All but two – Eldad and Medad, who were not even in the right location, at the Tent of Meeting. These two stayed in the camp (vs. 25-26).

At that point, the resident informant showed up. Wishing to keep the status quo he told Moses that someone is doing what they’re not supposed to do. When Joshua heard it, he quickly pronounced the proper treatment: “Moses, my lord, arrest them (put them in jail)!” (v. 28).

What? Why? What was it that bothered Joshua and the informant, to the point they had no doubt: what’s happening is wrong and must be put to an end, even if it means arresting Eldad and Medad?

Are You Jealous For My Sake?

Most likely, Joshua and the informer reacted out of zeal for the leader and for the existing order. Moses’ response is precious. Both in terms of its humility, as well as the wisdom it holds. “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (v. 29).

What Happened to the Spirit of Prophecy?

Ever since the Israelites entered the Land under Joshua’s leadership, Israel has been under a severe punishment called “the Hidden Faces”. Messiah’s true Faces – his full identity – has been hidden from us as a nation. To this day, even when we hear or see God’s hand at work, we don’t get it and we do not understand (Is. 6:9). (see Faces or a Mask? (A Midrash for Shavu’ot) ).

The Rabbis teach that since the passing of the last prophet of the Old Testament (Malachi), the voice of God is no longer heard from heaven, and that God himself does not interfere anymore in the affairs of men (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Yoma, 9). Through a brilliant yet terrifying process they silenced the voice of prophecy, and took upon themselves the responsibility to serve as God’s mouthpiece and lead the nation in how they should worship Him.

A Fantastic Tale – the Oven of Akhnai

Listen to this 1st century Rabbinical debate. Hard to believe, but it became one of the founding blocks upon which Rabbinic Judaism bases its authority to this day.

A new type of oven was brought before the Sanhedrin. The owner, called Akhnai, asked them to rule whether this is a Kosher one (susceptible to ritual impurity) that he can use, or should it be destroyed and thrown away. Rabbi Eliezer ruled that the oven is ritually pure, while the others argued the opposite. When none of Rabbi Eliezer’s arguments convinced his colleagues, he cried out, “If the oral law (ruling Halacha) agrees with my ruling, this nearby carob tree will prove it”.

And indeed, the tree leaped from the ground and moved far away. The other rabbis were not impressed. Their explanation: a carob tree offers no proof in a debate like that.

Rabbi Eliezer then cried out, “If the oral law is in accordance with my ruling, the stream of water will prove it”.  The stream nearby began to flow backwards against the laws of nature, yet all the other rabbis declared that one cannot cite a stream as proof in such matters.

Rabbi Eliezer then said, “If the oral law is in accordance with my ruling, the walls of this hall will prove it”. And indeed, the walls began to fall. Rabbi Joshua intervened and reprimanded the walls for interfering in a scholarly debate. So out of respect for Rabbi Joshua, the stones ceased to fall, but out of respect for Rabbi Eliezer, they did not return to their original place either.

In frustration, Rabbi Eliezer finally cried out, “If the oral law is in accordance with my ruling, Heaven will prove it.”  At that moment a voice was heard from heaven, “Why are you differing with Rabbi Eliezer? The law is in accordance with his ruling…” To which Rabbi Joshua responded quickly, “It [the ruling] is not in heaven [anymore]” (quoting Deut. 30:12 completely out of context).

The Talmud then then tells how God responded. Upon hearing Rabbi Joshua’s declaration, God apparently smiled and stated twice, “My children have triumphed over me” (Babylonian Talmud, Baba Metzia 59a-b).

Deaf Ears Everywhere

Amazing, I know. Yet, this proves how deaf is the Jewish ear to the voice that comes from Heaven. Apparently, God’s children had won the debate, and a majority of rabbis can now rule even against His authority.

The arguments regarding vaccinations, or the political mayhem in the US, or in Israel, clarify that not only those who do not believe in Yeshua are turning a deaf ear to His voice. Many streams in the Body, many believers, are so tired of the prophetic voice.

To a certain degree, I can understand why. Too often this voice is inaccurate, wrapped in frills that are far from what Scriptures themselves say, use a symbolic and artistic language that blurs a specific meaning and can fit just about anything, in any time and place.

Too often modern prophets have not been accurate, to say the least, but only few have repented and asked for correction and discipline. Instead of humbling themselves, submitting to correction and accountability to other leaders, and learning from their mistakes, and yes, even apologizing publicly, in most cases we hear weak excuses or blurry explanations. This is so dangerous.  

Prophecy is a God given gift to the Body. If it were not so, why should He command us to test prophecies (1 Thes. 5:20)? Or why should  Peter confirm Joel’s words about God speaking these days through prophecy, dreams and visions? 

“Na-Vee”, the One Who Brings

The voice of God is certainly heard from Heaven. He speaks in many ways of course, first and foremost of which being His Word, but He also brings forth specific message through human mouths.

The most basic meaning of the word “prophet” in Hebrew is one who brings – that is a message from God.

The OT prophets brought moral instructions and rebukes to the people. O, by the way, women could also bring messages from God and prophesy, even in the OT (see Ex. 15:20; Jud. 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14 and more). I just had to say that…

Samuel’s example is outstanding. He had to go through a learning curve until he could recognize God’s voice clearly and not confuse it with other voices (1 Sam. 3:4-10). Once he matured, God brought His messages through him to such an extent, that none of the words coming out of Samuel’s mouth fell to the ground (v. 19). Such a level of dignity and accuracy. Each word materialized and made a difference. None was wasted. 

And Today?

Is God speaking to us today through His Word only? How do we know what is right or wrong in matters that the Word is not clear bout? Can we rely on logic? Or perhaps we should listen to the scientific one? Or maybe let circumstances show us the right path? Each of these options has its own voice. How can we know if it aligns with God’s, especially those voices that are brought to us through other humans?

Father, please turn us, Your children, into those who can clearly hear what Your Spirit is saying, who see clear sights, who are not acting out of the fear of men, yet are so full with awe of You. Train us so we can stand at the town’s gate or the city square, and bring Your word with clarity, assurance and love.

Using Moses’ words, Abba, I ask that You make all your people prophets, but that it will be Your words we bring forward. Without adding anything, so that none of them will have to fall to the ground.

Lord, forgive us for that arrogance or whatever it is, that causes us to speak in Your name without being fully convinced it was Your voice we have heard, or that the visions we saw were solely from You. Or that anything that is about to come out of our mouths, came first out of Yours. Many of us want to comfort those around us, to bring some clarity into this bewildering reality, not realizing that we are only sowing more confusion, and causing more ears to turn deaf to You. Lord, have mercy!

Also forgive us for the contempt with which we treat the gift of prophecy. Instead of testing it, we either embrace it as it is and turn it into an idol, or mock it. 

God of Israel, forgive this nation for disrespecting Your voice. For ignoring it. For sealing our ears and our eyes and wrapping our hearts with fat, so much so that even when we do hear and see, we do not understand that this is our Husband who whispers in our ears.

We are confused, Abba. When a word of prophecy is spoken over us, we tend to respond with sarcasm and criticism. Help us lift our eyes above those in place of authority and knowledge, in whom we tend to trust; Above our hiccups and disappointment due to unfulfilled prophetic words that we have heard before.

Father, the sound of Your voice is precious. Make it clear and real, so much so that we will never diminish it, nor add to it (see 2 Cor. 2:1-5, 10-12).

The prophet Amos declared that You do nothing without revealing it first to Your servants the prophets (3:7). May it be that all Your people would be agents of Your word, carrying it with caution, bringing it – prophets!

[For Part 2 in this series, Testing Voices (2)]