It is a Jewish custom to recite a psalm before saying grace after meals. On the six weekdays, Jews recite Psalm 137: "By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept when we remembered Zion. We hanged out harps upon the willows...How shall we sing the LORD's song in a strange land?"
On the Sabbath, a different psalm is recited, Psalm 126: "When the LORD turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream. Then was our mouth filled with laughter, and our tongue with singing..."
These are two contrasting psalms. One describes the grief of the Jews who were carried away into the Babylonian Captivity, and the other describes the ecstasy of the Jews who returned at the end of the 70-year Babylonian Captivity. These two contrasting pictures, one of captivity and one of liberation, illustrate the difference between the six common weekdays and the holy, joyous Sabbath day.
If the Sabbath is kept on the right day, in the right way, and for the right reasons, it can make you feel like them that dream. It can fill your mouth with laughter and your tongue with singing. And it doesn't stop when the Sabbath ends on Saturday night; it continues and carries you into the new week refreshed and revitalized and prepared to face the week ahead.
Psalm 126 describes how the Jewish exiles felt after they left Babylon and returned to Jerusalem. This dream-like state of laughter and singing is not limited only to the Jews of that generation. The Jews who saw and heard Yeshua and had the revelation that He was the Messiah surely must have felt like them that dream. And about 1,500 years later, during the Protestant Reformation, Christians who broke free from the bondage of spiritual Babylon no doubt felt a similar dream-like euphoria that filled their mouth with laughter and their tongue with singing. Church historians describe a similar ecstatic effect on the emotions of God's people during times of revival.
I became a born-again disciple of Jesus in the early 1970s, during the revival called "The Jesus Movement." I can remember those heady days when multitudes of lost hippies—including me—turned to Jesus. We found ourselves propelled into a dream-like state of laughter and singing that was far better than any drug-induced high. We found the true love of God, not the lust that was mislabeled "free love." Instead of the temporary, hollow happiness that came from drugs, we found "joy unspeakable and full of glory" (1 Pet. 1:8). Instead of peace that depended on external circumstances, we found the inward "peace of God, which passeth understanding" (Ph'p 4:7). We had been looking for love, joy, and peace, and we found these things in Jesus.
I have a pretty good memory for detail, and I can get very nostalgic and sentimental remembering those exciting, heady days of 40-plus years ago. But let me tell you something. These days are heady days, too! More and more Christians are leaving behind the Babylonian confusion and mixture of Mainstream Christianity and are returning to the old paths, to God's original Sabbath, to a Biblical view of God's Law, to worship that is in Spirit and in truth. The 1970s were very exciting and exhilarating days for me, but these past 30-plus years of walking in the Messianic way have been no less exciting and exhilarating. Yes, I can get very nostalgic and sentimental remembering the heady days of 40-plus years ago. But 40 years from now, when I'm over 100 years old, I bet I'll get even more nostalgic and sentimental about these heady days!
The wonderful dream-like state of the Jews described in Psalm 126 can be experienced by anyone who is willing to come out of Babylon and join themselves to other disciples who are returning to the ways of Yahweh and working to bring about the restoration of all things that must take place before the return of the Lord.
Some people want to criticize dreamers. But we are not denying reality or following some pipe dream. Rather, we are seeing and affirming reality—the reality of God's kingdom, of eternal life, of the restoration of the kingdom to Israel, of all Biblical truths. We look at the universe and at life from God's perspective, from the heavens, because the dwelling place of our spirit is in the heavenly places. We believe the testimony of Scripture that says God "hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Messiah Yeshua" and that God "hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Messiah" (Eph. 2:6 & 1:3). These verses state that God has already done these things for us. These blessings are not just for the far-distant future. We begin to experience these realities now, and it puts us into a dream-like state that fills our mouth with laughter and our tongue with singing.
Some critics call such dreamers "God-intoxicated." That's not quite accurate, though, because embedded in the word intoxicated is the word toxic, which means poison. There's nothing poison about the Holy Spirit. At the same time, though, the dream-like state of which I speak was described this way by A.W. Tozer:
"When the Spirit presents Christ to our inner vision, it has an exhilarating effect on the soul much as wine has on the body. The Spirit-filled man may literally dwell in a state of spiritual fervour amounting to a mild and pure inebriation." (Of God and Men)
Notice Tozer's words: "mild and pure," not wild and impure. Historians write about Christians experiencing excitement, exhilaration, and ecstasy during times of revival. This is good. They also write about excesses, wild fanaticism, and abuse of authority during times of revival. This is bad.
Why do excesses, fanaticism, and abuse rise up during times of revival? Why is there always some wild fire that gets ignited when God's true fire of revival is kindled among His people? It is the work of the Enemy in the souls of carnal believers and counterfeit believers. If Satan cannot stop the revival, he will do whatever he can to discredit the revival so that people will distance themselves from what the Holy Spirit is doing. Satan sends his devils to stir up unstable people and cause them to act like religious nuts.
This tactic of Satan to discredit the true move of God can be seen throughout Church history. God was certainly at work during the Protestant Reformation, but so was Satan. Most Protestants know about Roman Catholics persecuting Protestants. But there were also fanatical Protestants who persecuted Catholics. One Christmas Eve in Paris, two Protestants stabbed a Catholic priest to death at the moment he elevated the host, then trampled on the host, which Catholics regard as the actual body of Jesus. (The Roman Catholics then immediately trampled the two Protestants to death.) This sort of behavior by Protestants, though rare, was no doubt used by the devil to discredit the message of the Protestants.
Even gentle, peace-loving Christian groups like the Amish and Mennonites, whose roots are in the Anabaptist movement, have some fanaticism in their historical roots. In 1534 a group of violent, polygamous Anabaptists forcibly took over the city of Munster and tried to establish a theocracy there. It ended in bloodshed. The action of these fanatics gave Anabaptists a bad reputation for a long time.
There are many more examples of wild fire and strange fire that flared up during times of genuine revival. And this current wave of revival called the Messianic Movement is no exception. I once heard someone say that the Messianic Movement is like a granola bar: full of nuts, and fruits, and flakes. Unfortunately, this is somewhat true. If you do not think there are any fanatics and screwballs in the Messianic Movement, go online and look for their websites. I'm sure you'll find many. Be careful, though. Don't get ensnared by any of their craziness.
How do we avoid excessive wild fire without quenching the true fire of God's Spirit? Wild fire is fire that is not contained; it has no boundaries, no borders, no bridles. It is unharnessed. It will continue to grow and spread and destroy wherever it can find ignitable fuel in the souls of unstable, unwitting pawns.
There are two important boundaries that are needed to prevent the fire of revival from turning into wild fire. The first boundary is the written Scriptures. The second boundary is accountability to leaders. These two things—knowledge of the Scriptures and accountability to leaders—will help harness the fire for good use, and prevent it from igniting un-kosher ideas that can turn it into strange, unrestrained wild fire.
Most of the strange, wild fire I have seen in today's Messianic Movement seems to be due to a lack of one or both of these boundaries. People set themselves up as Torah teachers, even though they have only a minimal, superficial knowledge of the Scriptures; or they stubbornly refuse to be accountable to other leaders; or they do both.
In Hosea 4:6 God says, "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." Messianic teachers (including me) sometimes point out that the specific knowledge that God's people lack in this verse is knowledge of God's Torah, because the verse ends with God saying "seeing that thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children." Christians who neglect God's Law certainly need to hear this. Lack of Torah knowledge cripples Christians. But there are some teachers in the Messianic Movement who are so preoccupied with the Torah that they focus almost exclusively on the five books of Moses and neglect the other 61 books of the Bible. They end up majoring in minors, straining out gnats while swallowing camels. Eventually their zeal kindles some un-kosher ideas in their heads, and it all turns into fanatical wild fire.
One thing that has kindled some wild fire in the Messianic Movement is Messianic teachers who come to erroneous conclusions because they do not know the Hebrew language. Don't misunderstand what I'm saying here. I'm not suggesting that everyone has to know Hebrew. You can be a faithful, fruitful disciple, even a good teacher or preacher, and not know a single word of Hebrew. (Well, you should probably know the words Amen and Hallelujah!) The wild fire comes not from the lack of Hebrew knowledge per se, but from the misunderstanding and misuse of the minimal Hebrew knowledge they have. As someone once said, A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.
Some well-meaning people misuse and misapply information without realizing it. With just a tiny bit of information, they build a mountain of doctrine on a single grain of sand. I cannot tell you how many articles I have seen written by people who propose far-fetched, erroneous ideas based on their misperception of some Hebrew word that they looked up in their Strong's Exhaustive Concordance. They try to support their wacky theories with Hebrew linguistic "proofs," but to people who have actually studied Hebrew and linguistics, the only thing they prove is that they know very little about either the Hebrew language or linguistics in general.
I once heard Hebrew scholar Dr. Roy Blizzard tell about a Christian bookstore he visited. The sign on the store said "Aman Bookstore." Roy asked the two store owners why they called it that.
The owners were surprised that Roy asked. "Well, because it's a bookstore for believers," they replied. "The Hebrew word for believers is aman."
They were probably thinking, Wow, Roy, we thought you were a Hebrew scholar. You should have known that.
What these men did not know was that the Hebrew word for "believers" is ma'aminim, not aman. They had looked up the word for "believe" in the lexicon of their Strong's Concordance and saw the word aman. They did not realize that Strong's gives only the basic three-letter (or sometimes two-letter or four-letter) root of a word. A Hebrew word can take many different forms by the addition of prefixes, suffixes, and infixes, or by the conjugating of verbs.
I repeat, not everyone needs to know Hebrew. You can be a wonderful teacher or preacher without knowing Hebrew. But if you are going to take it upon yourself to teach on subjects that require a knowledge of the Hebrew language—not just vocabulary, but things like grammar, morphology, verb conjugation, structure, syntax, etc.—then you had better learn how the language works before you try to prove some far-fetched new doctrine that is based on nothing more than what you see in a Strong's Concordance. (I'm not discouraging the use of Strong's. It's an excellent study tool, provided you realize its limitations.)
If you hear a teacher present some new, strange-sounding doctrine that doesn't seem to ring true with the Scriptures, be cautious, especially if his main "proof" is based on a Hebrew-linguistic explanation and the teacher does not know Hebrew or linguistics. Just because a teacher quotes a few Hebrew words from Strong's, don't automatically swallow everything he says, even if he calls himself a "rabbi."
Another cause of wild fire in the Messianic Movement is maverick teachers who are not accountable to other leaders. The hyper-independence in the Messianic Movement spawns all sorts of bizarre teachings. Here are a few that I am aware of:
"Paul was an anti-Torah heretic whose writings should be rejected and torn out of our Bibles." (Yet according to Ray Pritz's Nazarene Jewish Christianity, the first-century Nazarenes believed Torah should be obeyed and they also recognized Paul's authority, so apparently they saw no conflict between Paul and the Torah.)
"If you don't pronounce the Hebrew names of the heavenly Father and His Son correctly, you aren't saved." (Believing there is power in the correct pronunciation of words is linguistic superstition, and borders on occult magic.)
"Sabbath is not really from Friday sunset to Saturday sunset; it's really supposed to be kept on the 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th days of each lunar month." (This "Lunar Sabbath" idea, promoted by people who think they have "come out of Babylon," is ironically following Babylon's ancient pagan superstitions about the 7th, 14th, 21st, and 28th days, days "on which work was prohibited because of 'bad luck'" in Babylon. See Pinchas H. Peli's Shabbat Shalom, page 17 and footnote 33 for historical proof. Also, with a "Lunar Sabbath," it is impossible to count seven sabbaths between Unleavened Bread and Pentecost and arrive at Pentecost on the morrow after the seventh Sabbath.)
"The Book of Hebrews should not be part of the Scriptures." (If one lone individual Messianic maverick thinks he has the authority to single-handedly de-canonize an entire book of the Bible, then he forfeits his right to criticize Christians who want to discard individual commandments of the Torah.)
"Messianic men should take multiple wives and practice polygamy like some Old Testament saints did." (Because of men's hardness of heart God permitted polygamy, but from the beginning it was not so. God did not make a harem for Adam; He made one woman for him.)
If Messianic teachers were truly accountable to other leaders, they would not be so quick to embrace and promote such doctrines. They would talk to fellow leaders about new ideas and questionable doctrines before publicly proclaiming them as Biblical truths. They would remember that in a multitude of counselors there is safety, and they would seek that safety by being accountable to other leaders.
There will always be the hyper-independent lone-wolf prophets who refuse to answer to anyone. But the good news is that the Messianic Movement seems to be maturing and stabilizing. God is raising up men of integrity and sanity to stabilize and balance this wobbly movement. The kooks and crackpots and unbridled fanatics on the fringes seem to be gradually losing their credibility, while the God-given authority of the sane, stable leaders and teachers is being recognized, because these men have the hand of the Lord upon them and the harness of the Lord upon them as well.
Both the hand and the harness of the Lord were upon Nehemiah when he rallied the Jews to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem: "Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me; as also the king's words that he had spoken unto me" (Neh. 2:18). The hand upon Nehemiah was the hand of the Lord; the "harness" was Nehemiah's accountability to the king. The Jews' response to Nehemiah's challenge was "Let us rise up and build."
As these heady days become even more heady, I expect more and more disciples to become like them that dream, and I expect more and more devils to be stirred up because of what the Lord is doing among those who leave Babylon and return to Zion to work toward the restoration of all things. So, "Let us rise up and build!"
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Image (Top): By the Rivers of Babylon by Daniel Botkin from his Miscellaneous Gallery on his art website, DanielBotkin.com