Old Men Dream Dreams
by Rabbi Russ Resnik
We’re in the final days leading to Shavuot, zeman matan Toratenu—the season of the giving of our Torah—which is also the season of the outpouring of the Ruach seven weeks after the resurrection of Messiah Yeshua.
If we had been among the followers of Yeshua that year, we would have just come through a time of trauma and fear. A few days before Passover, we cheered for Yeshua as he entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey. He was the king, humble and just, fulfilling the words of the prophet Zechariah. The crowds greeted him with waving palm branches, crying out “Hoshia na, Save us, O son of David.” And then, just a few days later, he was betrayed by one of us, arrested by the temple guard, condemned, and handed over to the Romans. We looked on from far off as they nailed him to a wooden torture stake and left him there to die.
But on the third day, we started hearing rumors that Messiah had risen from the dead. And then he appeared to us, comforted us, and began teaching us even more than he had in the days we traveled together . . . until he left us on the 40th day. But not before promising we’d be immersed, submerged, soaked in the Ruach Hakodesh in just a few more days.
So we waited and prayed together, and then the festival of Shavuot arrived. We met in the temple courts that morning to pray in a corner sheltered from the flow of pilgrims flooding in for the holy day. Suddenly we heard a great rushing noise like a windstorm and saw what looked like bright flames above our heads. We were overwhelmed with a sense of God’s presence—this is what we’d been waiting for! Some of us began to praise and glorify God, loudly enough to draw a crowd. Then people in the crowd, Jews who’d come to worship from countries all around the world, started saying that they heard us praising God in languages they knew from their different home countries. They were amazed at what was going on, but some said we must be drunk.
That’s when Peter stood up, raised his voice above all the shouting and started to preach in a way we’d never heard him preach before:
Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these people are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
And in the last days it shall be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit, my Ruach, on all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
This last phrase grabs me and pulls me out of my first-century musings and back into my own reality as a twenty-first century follower of Yeshua: “Your old men shall dream dreams.” They say you know you’re getting old when you go out for breakfast or coffee with your friends and you talk about three things: your aches and pains and ailments; your cute pet’s latest antics; and, as you’re finishing up breakfast, what you’re going to do for lunch. When you’re old you’re likely to be cautious, pragmatic, and playing it safe. But it’s the work of the Ruach to counter the caution and pragmatism of the old—to blow through our lives like a fresh breeze.
Now I don’t put myself in the “old man” category yet. I’m not over the hill, but I can see the summit ahead, and I want to keep dreaming. What’s the dream? It’s a thriving, multi-generational Jewish movement for Yeshua. A movement that embodies the message and spirit of Messiah, that overflows its banks to bring Jewish people, and the nations as well, back to God; that works for peace and justice, and prepares the way for a kingdom only God can establish.
This dream goes back to my early days, when I dropped out of the status quo of midcentury America to seek a better world, ditched the endless freeways and shopping malls of Southern California, and ended up in a remote mountain community in Northern New Mexico, where Yeshua tracked us down and revealed himself to us. He also revealed that our utopian dream was in reality an impulse toward the Kingdom of God promised to my people from ancient days, to be brought about in God’s time and through his Spirit, not through our self-powered idealism.
The outpoured Ruach gives the dream . . . and makes it reality. Our human part is to be responsive, today as it was for the Yeshua-followers in Jerusalem ages ago.
So what keeps us—individually and as a community—from being responsive to the ongoing presence of the Ruach? Here are some obstacles I see from my own experience in leadership, from my travels in the Messianic Jewish world, and from learning from colleagues:
1. Manipulation. We try to manage the Spirit and his gifts and activity, sometimes for the best of motives. Most of us have seen excesses in the Pentecostal-charismatic camp, where human perspiration can be presented as divine inspiration. In response we over-control in the opposite direction and neglect the work of the Ruach altogether because of the excesses we’ve seen.
2. Bifurcation. Either/or thinking in the Messianic Jewish world sometimes sets Spirit and Tradition at odds with each other. Instead we are to integrate the Ruach with Jewish tradition and values. I believe we’re making real strides in this area, not only in our practice but also in our understanding and vision. As we do, we’re in the company of the Messianic community of Acts, where the Ruach was poured out in the midst of a Jewish festival, and the disciples remained within the Jewish community and worshiped in the temple.
3. Hyper-individualism. We buy into the subjective spirituality of this present culture and think of it as an accessory to our private inner life, when actually the Spirit is promised to all, to form and empower our individual selves into true community.
4. Systemic Inertia. It’s inherent to all systems, individual and communal, to resist change and it’s inherent to the work of the Spirit to bring change. So we need to calmly persevere in the face of resistance, both within ourselves and within our communities, as we seek the presence and influence of the Spirit among us.
All of these obstacles are overcome as we cultivate ongoing alertness to the Ruach in all we do, including our practice of Torah and Jewish tradition. Rav Shaul writes that we are sealed by the Spirit (Eph 1:13), and goes on to tell us to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:19). Sealed is a done deal, a completed action in the original Greek—be filled is a present imperative, an abiding promise we need to actively receive.
And it’s a promise for us all, says the Prophet Joel, for “all flesh,” male and female, Jew and Gentile, young and old. If old men can dream dreams, how much more the young? So be alert, be receptive. Seek the Ruach each day, and together we’ll prepare the way for the Kingdom that only the Spirit can bring.
Shavuot begins this Saturday evening, June 8.