Orla: A Lesson on Spiritual Maturity
In researching the various stages of spiritual maturity we all go through, I came across a rather interesting Hebrew word: עָרְלָה (orla: H6190). Like many Hebrew words, orla has several meanings. It is generally translated into English as ‘foreskin’ or ‘uncircumcision.’ On one hand, then, this word tends to speak about physical things, as in Genesis 17:11 and Leviticus12:3, where it deals with literal foreskins. We then see it used in Exodus 12:48 or Joshua 5:7, where it speaks of being physically uncircumcised. But orla also takes an interesting, more spiritual turn, and we see it used as follows:
Exodus 6:12: And Moses spoke before the Lord, saying, “The children of Israel have not heeded me. How then shall Pharaoh heed me, for I am of uncircumcised lips?”
Jeremiah 9:26: Egypt, Judah, Edom, the people of Ammon, Moab, and all who are in the farthest corners, who dwell in the wilderness. For all these nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised in the heart.”
Deut. 10:16: circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no more stiff-necked.
Interesting. Uncircumcised lips, an uncircumcised heart, and foreskin of your heart… these are clearly references to something more spiritual than physical.
Once I saw these, I was pointed to another set of verses: a command actually, which has many meanings beyond the literal, physical instruction it gives:
Lev 19:23: and when ye shall come into the land, and shall have planted all manner of trees for food, then ye shall count the fruit thereof as uncircumcised: three years shall it be as uncircumcised unto you: it shall not be eaten of. (24) But in the fourth year all the fruit thereof shall be holy to praise the LORD withal. (25) And in the fifth year shall ye eat of the fruit thereof, that it may yield unto you the increase thereof: I am the LORD your God.
When orla is used relating to the physical, it seems to imply an inner impurity made manifest on the outside: the physical points at the spiritual. We see that trend really revealed when orla points to the impurity of the lips, mouth, and heart. However, the verse in Leviticus is using orla in a manner that can only be taken to mean immaturity. During the first three years we are not to eat the fruit, the roots of the fruit tree are growing. A foundation is being laid for that tree so that it will grow strong and produce great fruit… later… when it is ready to. But for those first three years, it seems, we are not touching/picking it, so that it can gain strength and has the chance to mature, giving it a chance to grow to the point where it not only will produce fruit but will also withstand the elements which will come against it.
I find the similarity between Yehoshua teaching His students for 3+/- years and the command to not eat the fruit of an immature tree for the same period of time to be not so coincidental! During the three years or so that the disciples walked with Messiah, they were taught by their Master. While they were at times sent out to preach, Yehoshua was generally there and they were always under His tutelage, under His direction, which is the mark of a good teacher. They would not be “let loose,” though, until He ascended, roughly three years after He called them. We might also factor in the Apostle Paul, who, once his eyes were opened on the Damascus Road, went away for three years to Arabia, presumably to relearn many things (Gal. 1:15-18).
I happen to believe we should follow the Leviticus 19 command and not eat from a tree that is three years old or less (the fourth year it becomes an offering). At the same time, I think it is showing us a picture that while God may call us to do a certain thing, that doesn’t always mean that He intends for us to do it TODAY! So much of what God does is a process. The Abrahamic covenant is still, to this day, not completely fulfilled. The land promised through him has never been fully lived in by Israel. No one alive has all of Torah written on their hearts. These things are in the process of being done. Likewise, we ourselves are undergoing a process. We come in faith, believing, and we are all called to do a work for the Father. Yet, exactly when that work or ministry begins depends on when we are spiritually mature enough to handle the job. There are many “teachers,” especially online, who may very well be called to teach. However, based on their words and how they treat others, I wonder if it really is their time to teach yet? In any event, I think it is clear through the lesson of orla fruit that some things simply take time to be made manifest. We all should remain in constant prayer regarding our callings, yet, we need to be patient and wait on God.
May you be blessed in your work!
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By Ken Rank
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