GOOD MORNING SIBLINGS!
Today’s readings are Acts 21-23
Today in our reading it occurred to me that our modern usage of the word “Zealot” may be interfering in our understanding of what we sometimes see in the Bible. We tend to think of Zealot as a person who has a great zeal for something but in the Bible when you see that term (especially when it is capitalized), it is talking about a sect of Judaism, one of the smaller of four, but a very noted sect in what they stood for. We’ve touched on these before but I thought I’d give you a super quick rundown of the main sects at this time with a fact or two about each, focusing on information that is relevant to our reading today and including links as jumping off points for you to learn more.
Zealots– were a branch of Judaism known for trying to incite their Jewish brethren to rebel and overthrow Rome. They were known for being highly aggressive and militaristic in their approach. Think “Simon the Zealot”. However, this applies when referencing someone as being a Zealot, not zealous. And while seeing the word “zealous” in our reading sent me on this trail, I don’t think we actually have any Zealots in our reading today but hey – the more you know, right?
Pharisees– were the most prominent sects of Jews as they controlled the synagogue system. They followed Torah and “oral torah”. “Oral torah” is a set of laws and traditions handed down throughout the generations, very much like our church traditions. A big part of their belief system that comes into play in today’s writings is their belief of resurrection of the dead.
Sadducees– This is a sect that was considered of an elevated, wealthier, class among the Jews. They rejected tradition and held that only the law as given through Moses (YHWH’s law) was valid. They mostly stood in direct opposition to both Pharisees and the Messianics (Jews and Gentiles who believed in Messiah). They believed there was no life after death.
Note: The Pharisees and Sadducees were adversaries. They did NOT get along and among their points of contention, the topic of resurrection was one that caused fierce debates and much ill will between them. Put that in your back pocket because you’re gonna need to know it in a few minutes. Hang onto this knowledge because it will come in handy towards the end of my notes.
Essenes– While the Pharisees and Sadducees were large in number, the Essenes were considerably fewer. They did believe in life after death and the most notable historical fact for us to know today is that they are widely believed to be the writers (scribes, copying the texts to preserve them) of the Dead Sea Scrolls, in which they referred to themselves as “Keepers of Torah”.
Acts 21:5-6 I just thought this was a beautiful passage.
When our days there were ended, we departed and went on our journey, and they all, with wives and children, accompanied us until we were outside the city. And kneeling down on the beach, we prayed and said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home. Acts 21:5-6
As I was reading it, it played out in my mind as if watching a movie or experiencing it firsthand. The genuine love YHWH’s people have for one another is so beautiful and such an obvious direct gift from Him. I pray each person reading this has friends like this in their life now – or that the Father will send them soon.
Acts 21:8 when we read the phrase “one of the seven”, check out Acts 6:5 for context.
Acts 21:13 is a sobering thought where Paul states that he is willing to die for Messiah. Often we hear people say that these days, that they love Him so much they would die for Him. Sadly, though, most who claim they would die for Him aren’t willing to alter their lives in any real way that isn’t convenient for them.
We have to do some personal inventory and make sure our hearts are truly focused on Him. One thing I do from time to time is walk through different scenarios in my life and ask myself how YHWH would have me traverse a path or deal with a certain situation. Then, I take time to consider how I would respond if YHWH told me to do something out of my comfort zone and I mentally rehearse following Him.
I know this may sound silly but as we are reading the word of YHWH it really does help to put yourself in the main character’s shoes and mentally walk through how you would respond or react. These are great exercises to help us realize areas we need to work on and to mentally prepare ourselves to heed the Father’s voice in times in which it might be difficult to do so.
Those times are coming and for most of us, we’ve had moments just within this past week, month, or year in which we had to choose between following the Word or following the world. If a mental “dress rehearsal” helps me to follow the Father without hesitation when the time comes, then glory to Him for allowing me that training!
So in summary: Many say they are willing to die for Messiah but the truth is, most aren’t even willing to be inconvenienced for Him. Let’s set our hearts now to decide where we will really stand.
Acts 21:34 immediately called to mind our country today.
Some shouting one thing, some another, making it almost impossible to discern the facts. I’m so grateful for the wholeness of peace, the Shalom, that the Father offers to those who would call upon His name, no matter what takes place in the world.
Pay attention to Paul’s reiteration of his lineage and training at the beginning of chapter 22.
Acts 22:26 Paul’s Roman citizenship – We’ve discussed before that Paul was both a Hebrew and a Roman citizen by birth. Today, when he is bound and about to be flogged he asks the man about to do the deed if it is lawful for him to do this to a Roman citizen. The man stops short. You see, Roman citizens were granted special rights and privileges that others in the empire did not have. They had a right not to be abused before conviction, a right to a trial for any accusations, and even if they did something worthy of a death sentence, their lives were taken in far gentler ways than the general populace (A roman citizen could not be crucified). By Paul bringing this up causes them to back pedal right skippy like because they had broken the law already just by binding him up. You did not treat a Roman citizen in that fashion.
Y’all, Paul does something hilarious in chapter 23. It’s the stuff of tv comedy.
First of all he insults the high priest, calling him a whitewashed wall, which means one who pretends to be righteous but it is just an act. Then, when he is reprimanded for insulting the high priest he says he had no idea the man was the high priest, another indictment against this man’s behavior because as a high priest, this man wore special garments that would have made him obviously stand out to anyone, especially a scholarly Jew such as Paul. Many scholars feel that this was sarcasm on the part of Paul.
Now for the funny part.
Paul realizes that he is in the middle of a group of Pharisees and Sadducees, notorious for their vehement debates about life after death.
So he stands up and declares that he is a Pharisee and that the only reason he is on trial is because he believes in resurrection of the dead. With that knowledge, you can read the text to see that his play immediately worked and everyone in the room started yelling and fighting, violently even. As he no doubt knew would happen, it became so intense so quickly that Paul was ushered out.
It’s like a scene from Dukes of Hazard or something – and it’s epic, but you might miss it if you didn’t know the context ahead of time.
I want to backtrack and talk about Paul’s vow in 18:18 because we see more information on this in Acts 21:23-26. Paul has been falsely accused of speaking against YHWH’s law. Notice that this is a false accusation. James, in his wisdom, is seeking a way to assure Believers that Paul is one of them, that He honors and upholds YHWH’s law. James develops a plan that Paul will take some men who are set to take a Nazarite vow and, purify himself along with them in addition to paying their expenses. This was to prove that he lived in observance of the law himself.
What is a Nazarite vow? An Israelite who took a Nazarite vow was often referred to as a Nazarite. Nazarites could take the vow on a permanent or temporary basis, most were temporary and this vow often lasted for 30 days. During that time they did not drink alcohol, cut their hair, or touch anything unclean. (this is the short and sweet definition)
Queen Helena is an interesting Nazarite to look at. The information about her vow is from several noted historical accounts of the time period. She said that if her son returned safely from war, she would take a Nazarite vow for seven years. When he returned safely, she did just that. Now, this was a very long period of time to take this vow because, keep in mind, most Nazarite vows lasted only 30 days. At the end of seven years Queen Helena went through rituals to mark the ending of her vow, but a rabbi told her she had not kept her vow fully and so she had to start all over again. Towards the end of her second period of 7 years she became impure – but we don’t have a record of how. There are several ways in which this could have happened – and had to repeat the seven years again. All told, while they considered a 7 year vow to be extreme, she ended up keeping a Nazarite vow for 21 years.
There are quite a few noted Bible figures who were Nazarites.
Note: Being from Nazareth had nothing to do with being a Nazarite.
That’s all of me for today, folks. I look forward to chatting with you this morning in the main group.
Test everything, hold tight to what is good.~ 1 Thess 5:21
We are saved by Grace alone: Obedience is not the root of our salvation, it is the fruit!
May YHWH bless the reading of His Word!