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Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach (The Intermediate Sabbath of Passover): Don’t Lose Hope in the Wilderness

Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach (The Intermediate Sabbath of Passover)
Exodus 33:12–34:26; Numbers 28:16–25; Ezekiel 37:1–14; Luke 24

“You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread [Chag HaMatzot].  Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread [matzah], as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month Aviv, for in the month Aviv you came out from Egypt.”  (Exodus 34:18)

Boy-eats-shmura matzah-Passover

An Orthodox Jewish boy eats a piece of matzah during Passover.

The Parasha (Scripture portion) for this Shabbat occurs in the middle of the Passover week and begins by describing the holy days of Pesach (Passover) and the Feast of Unleavened Bread (Chag HaMatzot), which last seven days.

These two special events are most often blended into one and just called Passover, but there is a crucial difference between the two, which we will explore in today’s study.

During the Passover time frame, there are three distinct events that represent three unique spiritual states or conditions of the soul:

  1. Passover represents salvation: we are saved from the wrath of God by faith in the blood of the Passover Lamb.

“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”  (John 1:29)

Yeshua (Jesus) was slain on Passover as the perfect fulfillment of the lamb that saved the Israelites on the very first Passover:

“And when I see the blood I will pass over you.”  (Exodus 12:13)

lamb-spring

“The next day Yochanan saw Yeshua coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’”  (John 1:29)

  1. Unleavened bread, also called matzah or the bread of affliction, represents sanctification.

Matzah is flat because it is devoid of yeast (chametz), which represents wickedness, pride and that which causes us to be puffed up or to think more highly of ourselves than we ought.

“Your boasting is not good.  Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?  Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are.  For Messiah, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.”  (1 Corinthians 5:6–7)

Matzah-wine-Pesach meal-Seder-order

The matzah and wine of the ritual Pesach meal called a Seder (order).

Chametz is closely related to the Hebrew word chamutz, which means sour.  Yeast is a souring agent.  Likewise, sin causes bitterness in our soul.

“Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread [matzah] of sincerity and truth.”  (1 Corinthians 5:8)

The week of unleavened bread, therefore, represents sanctification accomplished through affliction, trials and testing, and the purging of pride in order to teach us humility and obedience by the things we suffer in our wilderness experiences.

“And you shall remember that the Lord your God led you all the way these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you, to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep His commandments or not.”  (Deuteronomy 8:2)

Acacia-refuge-desert

A tour group takes shelter from the sun under a lone acacia tree in Israel’s desert

  1. First Fruits, also called Bikkurim in Hebrew, which occurs the day after the first day of Unleavened Bread (although there is some disagreement as to the timing), represents resurrection.

Just as the barley is offered up to the Lord as the first crop after winter, so Yeshua was also raised from the dead on the Feast of Firstfruits.

“But now the Messiah is risen from the dead, and has become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep.”  (1 Corinthians 15:20)

From these distinct elements within Passover, we can understand that between the events of salvation and resurrection is a process of sanctification.

Passover → Unleavened Bread → First Fruits

Salvation → Sanctification → Resurrection

barley-Israel

A crop of barley in Israel

The Intermediate Sabbath—Losing Heart in the Wilderness

When the Israelites were delivered from Egypt, they also had to go through a sanctification process, which took them through the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land.

Even though the Israelites entered into a covenant with God in the wilderness, and came to understand their identity as God’s treasured possession there, sometimes they responded to hardship and barrenness of the wilderness with discouragement.

In the wilderness, they also lost heart, lost hope, longed for Egypt, grumbled, murmured, and complained.

For that reason, all perished but two—Joshua and Caleb—who followed the Lord wholeheartedly and kept the faith.  The bodies of the other Israelites lay scattered across that vast wilderness.

Yeshua is Tempted in the Wilderness-James Tissot

Yeshua is Tempted in the Wilderness, by James Tissot

Even Yeshua spent time in the wilderness—perhaps the Judean or Negev Desert.  The Ruach HaKodesh (Holy Spirit) led Him there to be tempted by the devil.  (Matthew 4:1–11)

Israel’s deserts are not an easy places to live—even with air conditioning!

The Negev is a land of snakes and scorpions; a place of great danger.  And yet, the wilderness is not a punishment, but a necessary stage in our spiritual journey.

It is often God who leads us into our wilderness experiences to humble us, to test us, to refine our faith, and to teach us perseverance and endurance.

If we come out of it alive, we do so “leaning on our beloved” instead of relying on our own strength or limited sufficiency.  (Song of Solomon 8:5)

The wilderness can be our spiritual university where we learn to trust in and depend upon the Lord, and only God knows how long that lesson will take.

Hagbah-Sefer Torah-Western Wall

The Torah is raised for all to see at Jerusalem’s Western (Wailing) Wall.

For Believers, in the vast space between salvation and the resurrection lies the wilderness, a dry and thirsty land where water is scarce.  That is where we are sanctified.

Because it is so easy to lose heart in the wilderness—our sanctification process—our response to the trials and challenges will determine how well we make it through to the resurrection.

Discouragement during our wilderness is an especially powerful weapon of the enemy because of its enfeebling, demoralizing effect.  This is not so with hatred, jealousy, fear, and other negative states that may cause us to act foolishly, to fight, or to run.  With these emotional attacks, at least we act.

Discouragement on the other hand, hurts us the most because it ultimately saps the energy right out of us, causing us to sit down, pity ourselves and do nothing.

Discouragement causes us to give in to the temptation of the enemy who whispers, “Just give up.”

Hopelessness is a very dangerous state of being.  In fact, Scripture tells us that “hope deferred makes the heart sick.”  (Proverbs 13:12)

prayer books-siddurs-Western Wall

Jewish men sort through prayer books (siddurs) on a table at the Western (Wailing) Wall in preparation for morning prayer.

When Hope Is Lost—The Day With No Name

The Scripture reading between Passover and Bikkurim is simply called “Intermediate Sabbath” (Chol HaMo’ed).  It doesn’t even have a name like the other parshiot.

It describes a time of hopelessness for Israel, wandering the nations without God’s blessing to protect them, as if they were living in a valley of dried up bones.

In our own valleys of dried up dreams and desires, when all hope seems lost, we wonder if everything has been in vain, if the sun will ever shine again in our grieving hearts.

Israel asked the same question in the Haftarah reading for this intermediate Sabbath.

The dry bones, which represent the whole house of Israel, say, “Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.”  (Ezekiel 37:11)

homeless man-Israel-prays-Western (Wailing) Wall-Jerusalem.

A homeless man prays at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem.

Sometimes we feel that we have been cut off from hope itself.  But so often when we feel the darkness is closing in on us, at that moment God is doing His greatest work.

Likewise, it is when Israel’s hope in itself is completely destroyed that God’s promise of restoration comes forth as a breath of life:

“Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, O My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel.  And ye shall know that I am the Lord…  And I will put My Spirit [Ruach] in you, and you shall live.”  (Ezekiel 37:13–14)

Ruach, the Hebrew word for spirit, is the same word used in verses 5 and 6 that is translated breath: “I will cause breath [Ruach] to enter into you and you shall live.”

A large group of women pray at the Western Wall during Passover.

A large group of women pray at the Western Wall during Passover.

In the Brit Chadashah (New Testament), Yeshua miraculously foreshadows the fulfillment of this Word.

Yeshua arrived four days after His friend Lazarus had died and been placed in the tomb.  Everyone’s hope in Lazarus being raised from the dead was completely lost.

Why did Yeshua wait for four days?  Jewish tradition holds that a person’s soul hovers around its physical body for three days, but after this time period, the soul leaves.

Therefore, the Jewish people who witnessed Lazarus’ death were convinced on the fourth day that the situation was completely and totally without any hope whatsoever!  Even the soul of the deceased had departed.

But Yeshua called out to Lazarus, TZEH HAHUTZAH!  COME OUT!

And Lazarus came up out of his grave and he lived!

One thing, however, needed to be done before Lazarus could come out of the tomb—the stone had to be rolled away.  Somebody had to do it and it wasn’t Yeshua.

Raising of Lazarus-Bloch

The Raising of Lazarus, by Carl Heinrich Bloch

While He could have easily rolled it away Himself or even commanded the heavy stone to move and it would have obeyed Him, He called upon the people to participate in the miracle.

Yeshua said to them, “Take away the stone.”  (John 11:39)

Why?  Perhaps He wanted to teach us that we are not to be completely passive and expect God to do everything for us.

Maybe there is a stone standing between us and our miracle.

Perhaps, all that is needed is to draw upon the faith and strength within us to “take away the stone” under God’s direction.  Then we will witness God perform a resurrection in our own life!  Halleluyah!

Lazarus tomb-Bethany

The traditional site of the tomb of Lazarus in Bethany.  Like the people around Lazarus who thought Yeshua came too late, sometimes we find ourselves in an utterly hopeless situation where it is so tempting to give in to despair and depression.

This is exactly when we should be reaching out for a miracle to the One who said, “I am the resurrection and the life.”  (John 11:25)

Before our situation became hopeless, we may have been counting on God to show up to perform a miracle.  But it seems that He did a “no-show,” and the relationship or the business or the whatever we were hoping for died.

That is when deep disappointment sets in.  “Where was God?” we ask.  “Where was His power when I needed Him?”

We could sit there, looking at that stone, crying, and thinking it’s just too heavy or too hard to move—or we can just move away the obstacle, let God in, and see miracles come forth.

May we hear the voice of our Good Shepherd and obey what He tells us to do to see that miracle happen—even if it doesn’t make sense or seems impossible in the natural.

empty burial cloth-shroud

The empty burial cloth

But We Were Hoping

Yeshua’s disciples also knew hopelessness and utter despair.

At Passover, after Yeshua’s death on the cross, it looked like all hope was lost and that the forces of evil had triumphed.  His disciples wandered about in confusion and sorrow.

They had hoped that this finally was the “real deal.”  After so many false Messiahs, they believed that He was truly the Mashiach who would redeem Israel from Roman oppression and restore the Kingdom of Israel.

After Yeshua’s execution, two disciples were traveling to a village seven miles from Jerusalem.  They walked together, chatting and reasoning about the event with quite sad demeanors.

But then Yeshua came near and walked with them along the road.  Still, their eyes were restrained and they did not recognize Him.  (Luke 24:16)

empty tomb

The empty tomb

Yeshua’s disciples had a certain expectation of how God was going to work things out.  But even though things didn’t happen the way they thought it should, this was God’s greatest triumph over darkness.

In their darkest hour, in their utter hopelessness, they couldn’t see that Hope was walking right alongside them!  For Yeshua is a Living Hope.  (1 Peter 1:3–4)

Isn’t this just like us when we’ve experienced a disappointment?  We’ve just got to find somebody to talk to about it.  We try to reason the thing out, to somehow make sense out of something that just doesn’t make sense.  This often only causes more sorrow.

When things don’t work out the way we had hoped they would, it could be that redemption is right there with us, walking alongside us.  Sometimes that Living Hope is right under our noses but we don’t perceive it because it comes in a form we didn’t quite expect.

In our darkest hours, we must remember that God never leaves us, for He safeguards our soul as we travel through the wilderness, where we are sanctified.

There, in our wilderness, our ultimate hope is Yeshua and His resurrection.

“You who are the Hope of Israel, its Savior in times of distress.”  (Jeremiah 14:8)

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