priests

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Bypass

For, on the one hand, there is a setting aside of a former commandment because of its weakness and uselessness (for the Law made nothing perfect), and on the other hand there is a bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God. And inasmuch as it was not without an oath (for they indeed became priests without an oath, but He with an oath through the One who said to Him,

“The Lord has sworn
And will not change His mind,
‘You are a priest forever’”);

so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.

The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

For it was fitting for us to have such a high priest, holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens; who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifices, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.

-Hebrews 7:18-28 (NASB)

Does the priesthood of Messiah cancel the priesthood of Aaron and the Levitical system? The relationship between the Aaronic priesthood and the Melchizedekian priesthood explored in Hebrews 7:18-28.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twenty-eight: The Bypass
Originally presented on October 26, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

This was a particularly interesting (and difficult) part of Hebrews to get through because I had to bypass (no pun intended) the traditional Christian reading (and what seems to be the plain reading) of the text and not believe that the Aaronic priesthood, the Temple, the sacrifices, and the Torah were all weak and useless and that Jesus replaced them as a better hope in bringing us closer to God.

By his own admission, Lancaster’s “bypass” analogy is flawed and by the end of the recording, he was asking his audience to forget he had even used it. But here it is anyway.

bypassI’ll use my own location as an example. Just west of Boise is the community of Eagle, Idaho. When I first moved here nearly twenty years ago, State Street ran west out of Boise and directly through downtown Eagle. Now between Boise and Eagle, you could travel about fifty-five miles an hour but as you approached Eagle, you had to slow down considerably. This could be a pain if you were just passing through and your destination were further west.

Eventually, the highway department built a bypass. Now State Street completely avoids Eagle and folks can go fifty-five (or more), not go through Eagle at all, and get to where ever they’re going faster. Old State Street still goes through Eagle, but you have to specifically take that turnoff to get there.

Lancaster says the Aaronic priesthood is like Eagle, Idaho and that the priesthood of the Melchizedek “bypasses” it to better promises, as opposed to replacing it. Eagle is still there and still a destination. So is the Aaronic priesthood.

Yeah, it’s an imperfect metaphor. Here’s why.

The former priests, on the one hand, existed in greater numbers because they were prevented by death from continuing, but Jesus, on the other hand, because He continues forever, holds His priesthood permanently. Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.

-Hebrews 7:23-25 (NASB)

Why is the Aaronic priesthood considered weak, imperfect, and useless? Was it really so? Was the Torah so weak and were the sacrifices so useless? It depends. It depends on what you are using them for. If you are using the Torah to give you eternal life in the resurrection and to justify you at final, eternal judgment, then yes, they are weak and useless…because they were never designed to be used for those purposes!

To employ another metaphor of Lancaster’s, it would be like using a screwdriver instead of a hammer to pound a nail into a board.

The Aaronic priesthood had a completely different purpose and it wasn’t an eternal purpose, even though the Aaronic priesthood itself is eternal:

Then you shall bring his sons and put coats on them, and you shall gird Aaron and his sons with sashes and bind caps on them. And the priesthood shall be theirs by a statute forever. Thus you shall ordain Aaron and his sons.

-Exodus 29:8-9 (NASB)

high_priestThe priesthood belongs to the sons of Aaron by statute forever. They still have a job. It will be there waiting for them when Messiah returns and builds the Temple in Jerusalem.

But…

…but, Jesus as our priest in the order of Melchizedek has a different purpose than the Aaronic priesthood and it operates in a completely different venue, in the Heavenly Court or Temple.

Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell among them. According to all that I am going to show you, as the pattern of the tabernacle and the pattern of all its furniture, just so you shall construct it.

-Exodus 25:8-9 (NASB)

God instructed Moses to have the Israelites build what could be described as a scale model of the Heavenly Court on Earth, the mishkan or tabernacle. If you look at the specific instructions, all of the objects of the tabernacle, right down to the priestly robes, and the proportions of the tabernacle itself were all carefully modeled on their Heavenly counterparts.

That means for everything in the tabernacle, there was a counterpart in the Heavenly Court where Yeshua (Jesus) functions as the High Priest (and if it took a whole army of Aaronic priests and Levites to serve in the tabernacle, then there must be a host of priestly angels assisting Jesus our High Priest in Heaven).

So what Jesus does in Heaven as Priest, the sons of Aaron do in the earthly tabernacle and later the Temple in Jerusalem. They are not in competition, they’re complementary. The Heavenly Court then is not a “bypass” around the earthly Temple, they exist on two separate parallel roads, and they don’t even go to the same destination. It would be like modeling one interstate freeway system on a different, similar system.

Oh, “former” priests. Verse 23 is misleading in English. The Greek doesn’t say “former”. Lancaster tells us it says something like “those who are many who have become priests.” If you look at the context, you see the major difference between the Aaronic priests and Yeshua is that the sons of Aaron, like all men, die, while Jesus, having died and been resurrected, is immortal. There were no immortal Aaronic priests in the tabernacle or Temple.

Thus, Jesus is able to intercede for us forever, not just in terms of our immortal souls and salvation at the eternal judgment, but right now, today, Jesus is praying to the Father for us.

What about verses 20 and 21 where it mentions an oath? What oath?

The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind,
“You are a priest forever
According to the order of Melchizedek.”

-Psalm 110:4 (NASB)

Oh, that oath.

MessiahGod swore an oath that an immortal Jesus would serve perpetually in the Heavenly Court as the eternal High Priest. No human priest in the Temple in Jerusalem was immortal and God swore no oath regarding them. Their mortality and imperfections, that is, their having sinned, made them “weak” and “flawed” and “useless” for the purposes of providing perpetual forgiveness of sins before the final judgment and eternal life through the resurrection (and remember, that’s not what they were designed to do). Jesus as High Priest is indeed “holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens.”

That’s the difference. That’s a much more consistent explanation of the comparisons and contrasts between the Aaronic and Melchizedekian priesthoods. That the latter is better doesn’t mean it replaces the former. It just means they function in different contexts and each one fulfills different job descriptions. Nearly two-thousand years of Christian interpretive tradition makes it seem otherwise.

What Did I Learn?

Just about everything. As I listened to Lancaster’s sermon, it all clicked into place, but trying to read Hebrews 7 without running it through this interpretive matrix made these passages seem terribly depressing when compared to my overall understanding of the New Covenant message.

That’s what this is all about. The “better promise” is what happens as the New Covenant enters our world and what happens when it reaches fruition. We are still in Old Covenant times. People are not perfected. We don’t have the Torah written on our hearts and our hearts have not yet been circumcised. We have received the indwelling of the Holy Spirit but not in its fullness so that we “know God” and obey His statues as a natural response.

Lancaster said that “perfection” refers to the resurrection and our perfected physical and spiritual states. Well, we certainly haven’t gotten that far yet.

Lancaster alluded to his What About the New Covenant lecture series which I suspect he incorporates into later sermons in his “Hebrews” series. The only way to understand Hebrews or any other part of the Apostolic Scriptures is to have a firm understanding of the New Covenant and how it works, which Lancaster provides in his New Covenant audio recordings.

Without that perspective, it is almost impossible to see the intent of the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews in any accurate manner or in any way that is consistent with God keeping the promises He made to His nation Israel.

praying

Christians and Tisha B’Av

…Should I weep in the fifth month [Av], separating myself, as I have done these so many years?

-Zechariah 7:3

In the fifth month, on the seventh day of the month …came Nebuzaradan … and he burnt the house of the L-RD…

-II Kings 25:8-9

In the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month… came Nebuzaradan … and he burnt the house of the L-RD…

-Jeremiah 52:12-13

Tisha B’Av, the Fast of the Ninth of Av, is a day of mourning to commemorate the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people, many of which have occurred on the ninth of Av. Tisha B’Av means “the ninth (day) of Av.” It occurs in July or August.

Tisha B’Av primarily commemorates the destruction of the first and second Temples, both of which were destroyed on the ninth of Av (the first by the Babylonians in 586 B.C.E.; the second by the Romans in 70 C.E.).

Although this holiday is primarily meant to commemorate the destruction of the Temple, it is appropriate to consider on this day the many other tragedies of the Jewish people, many of which occurred on this day, most notably the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and from England in 1290.

-from Judaism 101

Sometime before May of 2011, as chronicled on my former blog, I significantly reduced many activities that I had erroneously believed were my obligation to Torah observance. Not that my observance was performed with any sort of accuracy as an observant Jew might consider it, but at one time in my life I made the mistake of thinking that Jews and Jesus-believing Gentiles were assigned identical obligations to God and for all intents and purposes, a homogenous identity.

All that changed over the period of about a year and one of the primary motivators of that change was me watching my Jewish wife integrate into the local Jewish community across two synagogues and into her exploration of who she is as a Jew.

I realized that by attempting to “mimic” Jewish observance and behavior, I was diminishing my wife in her Jewish identity and diminishing the special chosen status the Jews have received from God.

Which left me with the question of just how much Jews and Christians can and should share, at least relative to Messianic Judaism but ultimately as an act of interactive fellowship between all Christians and all Jews.

And that brings me to Tisha B’Av or the ninth day of the month of Av on the Jewish religious calendar. You can click the link posted in the last sentence as well as the Judaism 101 link to learn more about this event and the weeks leading up to it.

The question is, can I or should I fast on Tisha B’Av? What is the purpose of a non-Jew fasting on a day of Jewish mourning? I’m sure the question has been asked so I went searching for questions and answers.

QUESTION: Is it OK for a Noahide to fast on Tisha B’Av? [The 9th/Tisha of the Hebrew month of Menachem Av, when Jews observe total fasting for about 24 hours and 40 minutes, as part of their traditional mourning on this anniversary of the destruction of both the first and the second Holy Temples in Jerusalem. When the 9th falls on the Seventh Day as in this year, the fast is pushed off 24 hours, and starts on Saturday night.]

ANSWER: It would seem that if a Noahide would make a full observance of all the Jewish precepts of Tisha B’Av, he would be making a religiously-observed memorial day for himself, which is like innovating a religious observance, which is forbidden.

Rabbi Moshe Weiner, author of Sefer Sheva Mitzvot HaShem, says that the only point upon which an individual Noahide could justify fasting is that he is mourning the temporary (but far too long) destruction of the Holy Temple and the exile of the Divine Presence. Since this is a permitted activity, it depends on his intention.

-from “Remembering the destruction of the Temples”
AskNoah.org

rainbow-forestYou may think it strange that I started looking for answers by exploring the propriety of a Noahide (a Gentile who observes the Seven Noahide Commandments [see Genesis 9] and is considered a “righteous Gentile” from a religious Jewish perspective) observing the fast. After all, I previously explored the idea of a Christian also being seen as a “righteous Gentile” and found, with rare exception, that the two states are incompatible.

But since this question (and many others like it) has probably been considered by the various branches of Judaism for hundreds of years or more, why not seek out their viewpoint? After all, it is a Jewish commemoration.

I only quoted from part of the article, but as you can see, it’s not considered obligatory for a Noahide to observe the fast or any of the other customary events leaving up to the actual fast day.

While a complete fast is discouraged, there are other recommended behaviors that are thought appropriate according to the Ask Noah Rabbi:

You can certainly increase in deeds of goodness and kindness for others, especially in giving donations to proper charities (which are not in conflict with Torah laws or morals)

Certainly a Noahide is encouraged to pray that the Third Holy Temple shall be established by Moshiach ben David very speedily in our days. And it very appropriate for a Noahide to read the Book of Lamentations on the night and/or day of Tisha B’Av.

The Rabbi also recommended the traditional reading of the Book of Job.

Rabbi Qury Cherki at the Noahide World Center has a similar opinion:

There are no commandments binding on a Noahide on the Ninth of Av. Any actions that he or she takes are completely voluntary. Anybody who decides to fast, or to read the Book of Lamentations or the Wars of the Jews and the Romans by Josephus, will be blessed for compassion.

The same is true of other restrictions, such as not listening to music, not greeting other people, and not using makeup. All such practices are copied from the obligations of Israel and are voluntary for Noahides. Children should not be told to fast.

Noahides can also decide on their own conditions. For example, they might allow themselves a partial fast by drinking but not eating any food. They can freely choose their own conditions.

This commentary seems a bit more relaxed than the “Ask Noah” opinion but it ultimately centers on any action the Noahide takes in response to Tisha B’Av being completely voluntary and a blessing for compassion.

churchBut what about Christians? Since the Church has been the source of much Jewish misery over the long centuries, would it be considered forbidden for a Christian to participate, or would it be (perhaps) considered an obligation as a matter of Teshuvah? If we have caused Jewish suffering, should we now, as an act of repentance, share in Jewish mourning?

It’s not easy to find anything online about Christianity and Tisha B’Av. I did manage to locate a letter written by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein posted at the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews. It’s addressed “Dear Pastor and Friend of the Fellowship,” so the audience is generically Christian. The letter seems educational in nature and is more advice to a Pastor on how to explain the Jewish significance of Tisha B’Av to Christian congregations.

R. Eckstein ends his letter:

It is my hope that these materials will help you gain greater insights into the Jewish roots of the Christian faith and understand the significance of Tisha b’Av.

I thank you for your continued interest and partnership in building bridges of understanding between our two faith communities.

May God bless you richly as you and your congregation continue to study His word.

The Christian Broadcasting Network posted an article by John Parsons of Hebrew for Christians Ministries entitled Tishah B’Av: Remembering the Destruction of Zion, but that too was an informational piece with no specific recommendations for Christian observance of the fast.

Which brings me to First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ) article The Affliction of Av.

This day holds intense significance for the Jewish people, but what about Christians, the followers of Messiah? Should believers mourn as well? Yes, we more than anyone else.

This is the first and only affirmation I could find (granted, my search was hardly exhaustive) that Christians not only could but should observe the fast. The article continues to conclusion:

The afflictions of Tisha b’Av were not just limited to the days of the Bible. Tisha b’Av has continued to be an ominous day for the Jewish people throughout their history. Sadly, many of these tragedies have been at the hands of “Christian” rulers, popes, and angry mobs. Whether by crusades, inquisitions, pogroms, or blood libels, so-called followers of Yeshua have tortured, burned, and murdered Jews. In so doing, these “Christians” have maligned the name of the Master and blasphemed His character.

But though some of these tragedies may seem like ancient history, “Christian” persecution is still fresh in the collective mind of the Jewish people. Given that fact, perhaps Tisha b’Av should become a Christian tradition as well. We must continue to rid our congregations of the sin of anti-Semitism in whatever form it takes, whether in thought, speech, or theology.

Once again, tzom kal – May you have an easy fast.

If the Church can be said to be obligated at all to the observance of Tisha B’Av, repentance for our historic (and maybe more modern) crimes against Israel, Judaism, and the Jewish people is the reason. Beyond Teshuvah is fasting as an act of compassion and solidarity. From a Christian and Messianic point of view, we are all looking to a future time when Messiah comes (returns) and rebuilds the Temple in Jerusalem, defeating Israel’s enemies, and bringing a lasting peace to the entire world for all nations…for Jews and Gentiles alike.

Each of them will sit under his vine
And under his fig tree,
With no one to make them afraid,
For the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.

-Micah 4:4 (NASB)

fall-of-jerusalemYesterday, I posted both a blessing and a cautionary tale about praying for the peace of Jerusalem or, conversely and even fatally, failing to do so. I believe Christians are commanded to pray for Israel’s shalom as a matter of aligning ourselves with the will of God for the Jewish nation and all of her people. In that light, I can see Christian observance of Tisha B’Av on some level to be obligatory as well. That most church Pastors and their congregations know nothing at all of Tisha B’Av may be a tragedy and a crime. Could it also be a sin?

As I write this, it is the first day of the month of Av, which begins the Jewish observance of the Nine Days leading up to the fast day. You can also learn a lot more about the three weeks leaving up to Tisha B’Av at Chabad.org.

This year, Tisha B’Av begins just before sundown on Monday, August 4th and ends about forty minutes after sundown the following day, Tuesday the 5th.

If you are Jewish and reading this and you don’t have a practice of fasting on Tisha B’Av (unless for a medical reason) I encourage you to strongly consider participating in the fast as a matter of community with all of Jewry, your brothers. If you are a Christian, from a traditional Jewish point of view, any observance of Tisha B’Av is completely voluntary and you are free to not observe the fast at all. However, the reality from a Messianic point of view (and who is to say this isn’t God’s point of view as well) is that observing Tisha B’Av can be seen as an obligation for Gentile Jesus-believers as both a matter of repentance and compassion.

This could be akin to that portion of Psalm 122 which pronounces prosperity for anyone who prays for the peace of Jerusalem and who loves the Holy City, as well as to Genesis 12 which announces blessings for those who bless Israel and curses for those who curse her.

Thus not only should we pray for Israel’s peace but we should also mourn with her in her loss.

“Be joyful with Jerusalem and rejoice for her, all you who love her; Be exceedingly glad with her, all you who mourn over her…”

-Isaiah 66:10

“He who does not mourn over the Destruction of Zion will not live to see her joy.”

-T. Bab Bathra, fol. 60. 2. & Caphtor, fol. 118. 2.

RestorationOur hope as Christians is in the return of the Messiah and the resurrection in the New Covenant age when Jerusalem will be rebuilt and Israel will raised as the head of all the nations. Jerusalem will be in her uttermost joy, but according to Jewish tradition, those who do not mourn for Zion now will not be alive in the Messianic future to receive her joy. This is commentary on both Isaiah 66:10 and Genesis 12. This is a warning to all believers who still embrace hatred of Israel in their (our) hearts.

May God grant wisdom and compassion to His worshipers among the nations, and may He teach us to weep bitter tears over the fallen Temple, so that we may sing with joy when Messiah raises the Mikdash, the Holy Temple, again.

Walking to the Temple

What I Learned in Church Today: Pray for Jerusalem

I was glad when they said to me,
“Let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Our feet are standing
Within your gates, O Jerusalem,
Jerusalem, that is built
As a city that is compact together;
To which the tribes go up, even the tribes of the Lord—
An ordinance for Israel—
To give thanks to the name of the Lord.
For there thrones were set for judgment,
The thrones of the house of David.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
“May they prosper who love you.
“May peace be within your walls,
And prosperity within your palaces.”
For the sake of my brothers and my friends,
I will now say, “May peace be within you.”
For the sake of the house of the Lord our God,
I will seek your good.

-Psalm 122 (NASB)

Not that the sermon wasn’t good or the Sunday school class wasn’t stimulating, but this is the best thing I learned in church today (yesterday as you read this). Pastor Randy returned from being away for several weeks in California and led the congregation in an impassioned prayer for Israel in these trying times. Randy lived in Israel for fifteen years and still has many Jewish friends there. One of his friends calls Randy every three days or so and gives him an update on what is really happening there, events you’ll never see reported on CNN or MSNBC.

The Iron Dome missile defense is working but when a missile was intercepted directly over the home of Randy’s friend, they heard the loud explosion followed by the rain of shrapnel hitting the roof. The missile alarms go off daily prompting everyone to go to the shelters.

The friend’s adult age daughter’s boyfriend is an officer of an elite ground unit in the IDF. This officer was leading his men (in the IDF officers don’t tell soldiers to go and do something while sitting back, they always say “follow me” and then lead their troops) through one of the thirty-eight known Hamas terrorist tunnels in Gaza when a booby trap bomb blew up literally in his face.

The three men behind him died but amazingly, this man survived. A number of bones on his face were broken, bomb fragments are in both eyes, and he’s lost the hearing in one ear.

He will regain his sight eventually but will always be partially deaf.

Randy was insistent that we must pray for the peace of Jerusalem. He also said this:

And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.

-Genesis 12:3 (NASB)

Not only did Randy speak of blessings but of curses, and he even invoked these curses against all of Israel’s enemies.

He also recited Psalm 122:6 in Hebrew and wished we could read and speak it in Hebrew as well:

שַׁאֲלוּ, שְׁלוֹם יְרוּשָׁלִָם

Remember the second half of that verse:

May they prosper who love you…

Which strongly implies the opposite to those who hate Jerusalem.

terror tunnel discoveredFrom my point of view, loving Israel and cherishing Jerusalem is a “no brainer,” but after all, my wife of over thirty years is a Jew and I have learned a deep-seated compassion for the nation and the people whom God has called His “priests” and the “apple of His eye”.

I also consider it spiritual suicide to not love Israel for in the end, God Himself will defend her against all of her enemies in war, which sadly I fear, includes the nation in which I live.

This topic wasn’t supposed to spill over into Sunday school class but when Charlie was asking for prayer requests, I mentioned that Randy fulfilled my typical request in a much better way than I ever could. That started a discussion and one fellow, who tends to have a “sparky” temper at times, inserted the “there are two sides to every story” argument.

I didn’t mind, and in fact I agreed with him, when he said that the Arab non-combatants in Gaza are as much victims of Hamas as the Jewish Israelis, but he then downgraded Israel and her current Jewish population saying they are guilty of doing many wrongs as well.

I can’t speak for the actions of every individual in Israel, but I can see that God didn’t promise to fight off the enemies of the “Palestine,” He will defeat the enemies of Israel. To stand against Israel now, even in the slightest degree, isn’t only standing on the wrong side of history, it’s standing on the wrong side of God.

I wasn’t the only one to come to Israel’s defense in class, and shortly afterward, this fellow seeing “both sides” got up and left, followed a minute or so later by his wife.

I actually feel bad about that because on many other levels, this person does love Jesus and sincerely serves him (he just returned with a group from our church who went on a short-term missions trip to the Philippines and Thailand). It’s just that so many Christians are blind as to the true focus of Christ’s love and what Jerusalem means to him.

I mentioned before that I thought John MacArthur’s current battle against the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) over PCUSA’s support of “marriage equality” was something of a Red Herring, not because MacArthur isn’t sincere (he’s always sincere), but because the center of God’s attention is always Israel.

This isn’t to say that missions trips or the many other fine endeavors of the Church are “Red Herrings,” but we can’t let all of these other activities make us take our eye off the ball, so to speak, lest we lose the prosperity that comes of loving Jerusalem and praying for her Shalom.

The rest of the world, and particularly Europe, are attacking the Jews over perceived Israeli injustices in Gaza. Sometimes those attacks include physical assaults against Jewish people. How long before European nations start marshalling their armies and physically attack the nation of the Jews: Israel?

Here in America, we have lost our way as well and can no longer see the moral chasm between Israel and Hamas (that last link leads to an article written by General James T. Conway, who retired in 2010, and was the 34th commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps). Most of us, including many in the Church, swallow the anti-Israel, anti-Jewish propaganda being pumped at us by the mainstream news media as well as social media venues. We pay attention to secular “wisdom” and abandon the Word of God. More’s the pity.

IsraelRandy said that in the days of the Temple, many of the songs of ascents would be sung by those who were going up to Jerusalem, to the House of the God of Jacob, He asked us to imagine going up the steps with Psalm 122 on our lips. Imagine the Levitical priests singing the songs as you entered the Temple court. Imagine the anticipation, the grandeur, the beauty, the thrill of approaching a tangible encounter with God in the only place in the world He has placed His Name.

I reminded my Sunday school class that in modern Judaism, you can pray the Psalms for different occasions. This is a good occasion to pray Psalm 122 for the peace of Israel.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; those who love you will be serene. May there be peace within your wall, serenity within your palaces. For the sake of my brethren and my comrades, I shall speak of peace in your midst. For the sake of the House of Hashem, our God, I will request good for you.

-Psalm 122:6-9 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

“Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city of Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God…

-Revelation 21:9-10 (ESV)

One last cautionary note. Verse five of Psalm 122 says, “For there sat thrones of judgment.” There will be a judgment against those who do not seek Israel’s peace. Choose a blessing and not a curse. Choose life.

Mishkan

Where Do We Encounter God?

They shall make for Me a Sanctuary and I shall dwell among them.

-Exodus 25:8

The Midrash notes that God did not say, “I shall dwell within it” (the Sanctuary), but “I shall dwell among them” (the Israelites), i.e. the Divine Presence will be within each person.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
“Growing Each Day,” Tammuz 26
Aish.com

That sounds incredibly like this:

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly there came from heaven a noise like a violent rushing wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire distributing themselves, and they rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit was giving them utterance.

-Acts 2:1-4 (NASB)

Well, maybe not exactly. Actually, the “Pentecost event” sounds more like this:

The Lord descended in a cloud and spoke to him, and He increased some of the spirit that was on him and bestowed it on the seventy elders. And when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied, but they did not continue.

-Numbers 11:25 (Chabad Torah Commentary)

So we have two examples from the Bible, Numbers 11:25 and Acts 2:1-4, where we witness the Holy Spirit of God being imparted to groups of devout Jews and whereupon they prophesy. Then we have a Midrash on a portion of the Torah that says it was God’s intent to dwell among Israel by dwelling within each individual Israelite, rather than in (or in addition to) the Sanctuary itself.

When the Midrash states God did not say, “I shall dwell within it” (the Sanctuary), but “I shall dwell among them”, it seems more like clever word play than an obvious interpretation leading to the aforementioned conclusion.

Still, it’s a compelling thought, since it summons images of God desiring, even as He commands the Mishkan to be built, to dwell within the devout of His people.

But dwelling among His people can also be compared to this:

They heard the sound of the Lord God moving about in the garden at the breezy time of day; and the man and his wife hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden. The Lord God called out to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”

-Genesis 3:8-9 (JPS Tanakh)

Here too we see God “dwelling” among His people in Gan Eden (the Garden of Eden) but we don’t see the Divine Presence dwelling within Adam and Havah (Eve). Can we say that the Divine Presence dwelt among Israel with the Tabernacle (and later the Temple) as the focus of His presence in the same manner as He dwelt (or at least visited) the Garden?

After all, the Midrash presented by Rabbi Twerski isn’t the only one referencing Exodus 25:8:

And they shall make Me a sanctuary: And they shall make in My name a house of sanctity.

-Rashi’s commentary on Exodus 25:8

Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin
Rabbi Prof. David Golinkin

Rabbi Professor David Golinkin, President of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, wrote a commentary on Exodus 25:8 in 2003 called Why Do We Need Synagogues in which he offered numerous Midrashim on this particular verse.

Of all of the Midrashim proffered, he believes this one best defines the reason for the commandment to build the Mishkan:

This whole matter of the Menorah, the Table, the Altar, the boards, the Tent, the curtains, and the utensils – what is it for? Said Israel before the Holy One Blessed be He: Lord of the Universe, the kings of the nations have a tent and a table and a menorah and incense and these are the trappings of kingship, for every king needs this. You are our king, our redeemer, our savior – shouldn’t you have the trappings of kingship until all people know that you are the king? God said to them: My children, flesh and blood need all that, but I do not, because I don’t eat or drink and I don’t need light… [Finally God relented:] If so, do what you want, but do it as I instruct you: As it is written: “And let them make me a sanctuary… make the menorah… make the table… make the altar…” (Midrash Aggadah to Parashat Terumah, p. 170).

The Jewish people built the mishkan and later the mikdash and later the synagogue because they – like all human beings – had a need for a physical place in which to worship God.

We are physical beings designed to live in the material world. God is Spirit and exists outside of Creation and indeed, there is no place where God does not and cannot exist. We are limited and He is limitless. So if He desires to dwell among us, where do we meet? We cannot go to His realm for how does a finite human visit infinity? He must somehow “reduce” Himself and come to us where we live. It was for us that all of Creation was made.

And who knows what aspect of the Almighty was “moving about in the garden” on that breezy day?

But R. Golinkin also quoted his father Rabbi Noah Golinkin from the senior R. Golinkin’s booklet Say Something New Each Day (1973, p. 18):

God, where are You?
Where do I find You?
You do not live here.
You have no address.
The Universe is filled with Your glory.
You live in every mountain
and in every valley
and on the busy turnpike outside.
You live in the beautiful riot of many colors
of the Indian summer;
and You live in my soul.

“You live in my soul.” But there’s more:

And yet
I have built for You a special building,
Beautiful, dignified, majestic,
Intimate, warm and friendly.
For whom did I build it?
For You and me.
For our conversations together.
For Your glory, O God,
And for my humble need.
I should be talking to You –
When I see You in the beautiful sunrise,
When I see You in the innocent smile of a child
When I see You in the kind deed of a man.

Inner lightIt seems there doesn’t have to be an inconsistency between God dwelling among us and God dwelling within our souls. He speaks to us from within ourselves but also meets with us in Holy places of worship.

I should say that, particularly in Judaism, personal worship and study is conducted in the home and the synagogue is reserved for communal worship and study. Jews pray individually but to join a minyan, must go to the synagogue.

Then the LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone…

-Genesis 2:18 (NASB)

Behold, how good and how pleasant it is For brothers to dwell together in unity!

-Psalm 133:1 (NASB)

In the Garden, in the Mishkan, in the Temple, in the Synagogue, and dare I say it, in the Church, people were not meant to encounter God as individuals, because we can do that anywhere, including within our souls. God commanded the Mishkan to be built so that the community, the nation of Israel could gather and dwell with God.

The indwelling of the Spirit is inexorably coupled with the New Covenant:

Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.

-Ezekiel 36:26-27 (NASB)

“Thus you will know that I am in the midst of Israel,
And that I am the Lord your God,
And there is no other;
And My people will never be put to shame.
It will come about after this
That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
Even on the male and female servants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days.”

-Joel 2:27-29 (NASB)

In Gan Eden, human beings had an unparalleled intimacy with God which they took for granted because they had never known separation from God. It was only after the first act of disobedience that they truly understood was it was to be separated from God, the anguish, and agony of having known God and then becoming alienated from Him. How like our Master when he took upon himself the sins of humanity, thus for the first time also becoming separate from the Father:

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?” that is, “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?”

-Matthew 27:46 (NASB)

exileHumanity has been separated from God for virtually all of human history. And yet not only has God desired to once again dwell with us, but as the Midrash testifies, we have yearned to dwell with Him. But once broken, shattered, torn asunder, intimacy with God is not so easily recovered. We see a series of steps, from the Mishkan, to the Temple, to the Master (John 1:14) and the Master’s Good News that the New Covenant was (is) near, to the giving of the Spirit to the Jews (Acts 2) and the Gentiles (Acts 10).

But the best is yet to come.

While most Christians don’t give much serious thought to Midrash, it’s a reminder that the desire for intimacy with God is much older than the Church and that the people who authored the Bible also witnessed the Divine Presence descending upon a structure that man built at the command of God.

Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud had settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the sons of Israel would set out; but if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out until the day when it was taken up. For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.

-Exodus 40:34-38 (NASB)

The Divine Presence of God descended upon the Tabernacle but God also dwelt within the souls of each individual Jew. Messiah will someday come to rebuild the Temple, but Paul also called our bodies Temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). We don’t have to conclude that an infinite God can only reside within one domicile within our world, for nothing is impossible with God.

But if not for human frailty and folly, where would God be to be among us?

The purpose of the tabernacle and the subsequent Temples was “they shall make me a sanctuary that I may dwell amongst them” (Exodus 25:8).

The great kabbalist Rabbi Isaiah Halevi Horowitz (1560-1630), author of the monumental work the Sheloh, writes that since the verse employs the plural “them” rather than the singular, the Torah must be referring not to the sanctuary but to the people themselves.

According to this mystical interpretation, God’s commandment was never for a home of gold, silver and marble. Rather, God’s desire is that we create a space in our hearts and souls for him to abide in. Our very beings should function as portable temples that elevate our lives to be sanctified wherever we are.

-Rabbi Shlomo Zarchi
“Torah: Why do we pursue justice? The answer lies inside all of us” – March 7, 2013
JWeekly.com

R. Twersky concludes his commentary on a similar note:

If my relationship to God is limited to going to the Sanctuary and praying for my needs, then I am merely using Him, and God becomes an external object. But when I make His will mine, then His will resides within me and He becomes part of me. This is undoubtedly what the Zohar means by, “Israel, the Torah, and God are one unit,” because the Torah, which is the Divine will, is inseparable from God, and when one incorporates the Torah with one’s own code of conduct and values, one unites with God.

PrayingWe meet God in multiple venues in the present world, within our churches and synagogues, but also within ourselves. But even as God resides within our souls and as His Spirit infuses our flesh, the union is still incomplete. The word is not yet written upon circumcised hearts. The Messiah has not yet brought that to us.

So we yearn. Our souls groan for what they don’t know but have once known in antediluvian ages past. May the Spirit of God quicken within us and may Messiah come soon and in our days.

Amen.

establish torah

Reflections on Romans 3

For indeed circumcision is of value if you practice the Law; but if you are a transgressor of the Law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law? For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.

-Romans 2:25-29 (NASB)

Pour yourself a big cup of coffee and relax. This one is long.

It may seem a little odd to start a commentary on Romans 3 by quoting from Romans 2, but remember that I previously stated that my “reflections” on Romans series was an attempt to describe my impressions of this epistle as a complete unit, that is, a letter intended to be read all at once, rather than slicing and dicing it up into little sound bytes. The context of what Paul writes in the third chapter of this book (and remember, for Paul, this wasn’t a “book” nor did he actually divide his letter into chapters) spills over from what has come before it.

As a refresher, here’s how I ended my commentary on Romans 2:

If a Jew fails to perform a mitzvah, does he stop being a Jew? Does he become “uncircumcised?” This used to puzzle me. The whole “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh” thing has been used to justify calling Christians “spiritual Jews” and to support the old, tired theology of supersessionism. But I don’t think that’s what Paul is saying.

Paul is trying to inspire zeal for the Torah and for faith in Messiah in his non-believing Jewish brothers in Rome. How would he do that by insulting them and rejecting them? Worse, how would he do that by denigrating the Torah? He couldn’t.

But he could be saying that a Jew is justified before God if he is outwardly a Jew, that is, if he is obedient to the commandments, and if he is inwardly a Jew, that is, if he has faith in God and that faith is the motivation for obedience. The two go together…faith and works.

Paul, in my opinion, is saying that a Jewish person devoted to Hashem must be a Jew in his or her inward faith and also outwardly a Jew in behavior, in performance of the mitzvot. The two are inseparable to a complete Jewish identity.

And, if the Jewish person is boasting based on ethnicity and being a recipient of the promises but not also living a life of faith and obedience to God, then…

So if the uncircumcised man keeps the requirements of the Law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision? And he who is physically uncircumcised, if he keeps the Law, will he not judge you who though having the letter of the Law and circumcision are a transgressor of the Law?

-Romans 2:26-27 (NASB)

So if a Gentile who is not circumcised, that is, who is not a Jew, nevertheless behaves as if he has a circumcised heart, that is, is obedient to God through faith in Messiah, then sees a Jewish person who is hypocritical, boasting in their ethnic identity but not “walking the walk,” so to speak, won’t that Gentile be justified in “pushing back” when the less-than-faithful Jew attempts to assert some sort of religious superiority over the Gentile based just on being ethnically Jewish?

And that’s where we start chapter 3:

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God. What then? If some did not believe, their unbelief will not nullify the faithfulness of God, will it? May it never be! Rather, let God be found true, though every man be found a liar, as it is written,

“That You may be justified in Your words,
And prevail when You are judged.”

-Romans 3:1-4 quoting Psalm 51:4 (NASB)

PaulRemember, Paul created no chapter divisions, so he’s simply continuing his point from the previous portion of his letter.

So is Paul saying that being ethnically Jewish in and of itself meaningless? Are people who are ethnically Jewish but not obedient to the mitzvot or even imperfect in their attempts to be observant cut off from God? What advantage is there in being (just) ethnically Jewish, simply born into a covenant relationship with God?

“Great in every respect.”

In other words, being born into a covenant relationship with God all by itself still has great advantages and still orients the Jewish person, regardless of their behavior, to God, both as the focus of His love and, if they are disobedient, the focus of His discipline as outlined in the conditions (listed in the Torah) of the Sinai covenant.

Then Paul lists one of the advantages: “entrusted with the oracles of God.” That word “oracles” is also translated as “words,” “revelation,” “utterances,” and “truth”. This means (to me) that at a time when the entire world was worshiping idols of wood and stone and passing their infants through fire as some sort of fertility rite, only the Israelites were trusted to possess and commit themselves to the words of God, which we can interpret as the Torah, Prophets and the Writings, the Tanakh or the entire canonized Bible as it existed when Paul was writing to the Romans.

The Bible records many periods when Israel was faithful to God and many periods when she wasn’t. And yet, through it all, God was faithful and the Israelites remained His people, entrusted with his statues and ordinances.

Then Paul says, “So what if some Jewish people are unfaithful? Do you think that means God is going to stop being faithful to the Jews and abrogate his covenant promises? Absolutely not!”

So even if “every human being [is] a liar, God it true.” Then Paul quotes from Psalm 51:4, which is King David’s famous confession and plea to God after his sin with Batsheva. This is David’s admission of sinning against God alone and because he has sinned, David knows God is justified in judging him and God’s verdict against David is true.

To me, this says a couple of things. The first is that, because God and Israel are in a covenant relationship with each other, and that covenant relationship lists consequences if Israel, or any individual Jew such as David is faithless, then God is justified in disciplining the nation or the individual based on that relationship. This is what happened to David and I believe Paul is saying that individual Jews in his time would also receive consequences from God for faithlessness and sin specifically because they are in a covenant relationship with God.

JudaismIn other words, just because God disciplines individual Jews or the entire nation of Israel doesn’t mean God has abandoned them and ended His covenant with them. Quite the opposite. It means that God is fully engaged with national Israel right down to the lives and behavior of each individual Jewish person. We Gentiles (Christians) have no right at all to say that God abandoned Israel in favor of “the Church.” Too bad “the Church” hasn’t read this passage of Romans in that particular light over the past nearly two-thousand years.

Was Paul concerned that Jesus-believing Gentiles were somehow “lording it over” Jews who were less than faithful or less than observant? According to Mark Nanos in his book The Mystery of Romans, Paul was admonishing the Jesus-believing Gentiles for parading their “freedom” (being “grafted in” to the blessings of the New Covenant promises without the requirement of undergoing the proselyte rite and being obligated to the full yoke of the Torah mitzvot) in front of the non-believing Jews with whom they were associating (along with Jesus-believing Jews) in a common synagogue setting and/or a common Jewish community context.

It may be (and this is just my “reflection”) that the Gentiles were encountering some Jewish non-believers who, not at all happy that Gentiles were being afforded equal social status and inclusion in Jewish community without converting to Judaism, were being boastful that they were ethnically Jewish, possessors of the “oracles of God,” and thus were to be accorded a superior status. The Gentiles to whom Paul is addressing may have been rather vocally stating that these Jews were indeed Jews “in the flesh” but their behavior in Torah observance and obedience to God was (in the Gentiles’ opinion) coming up short.

Paul then is telling these Gentiles not to be “knuckleheads” and “so what” if these Jewish non-believers aren’t perfect. They still have many advantages. Don’t rub their noses in the fact that Gentiles in Messiah are considered (at least by Paul) as equal co-participants in the covenant blessings and in Jewish worship and communal space.

But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? The God who inflicts wrath is not unrighteous, is He? (I am speaking in human terms.) May it never be! For otherwise, how will God judge the world? But if through my lie the truth of God abounded to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner? And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say), “Let us do evil that good may come”? Their condemnation is just.

-Romans 3:5-8 (NASB)

I may not be getting everything Paul is trying to communicate here, but my sense is that Paul is saying, even though the Jews have many advantages just by being born Jewish, God is still justified in judging unrighteousness among them, even as He promised He would in the Torah. God “inflicting wrath” does not mean He’s unrighteous, that is, does not mean (as I said before) that God is abandoning His relationship with Israel. When any one in Israel is judged by God to have sinned, God is justified in inflicting discipline.

In verse 9, Paul says that relative to judgment for sin, the Jews do not have an advantage over the Gentiles due to their covenant relationship with God, because God is justified in condemning anyone who sins. No one is perfect. Everyone sins. Everyone can be under the “power of sin” (Romans 3:9 NIV).

In Romans 3:10-18, Paul weaves a number of different scriptures into his “none are righteous” part of the chapter, including Psalms 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Eccles. 7:20; Psalm 5:9; Psalm 140:3; Psalm 10:7 (see Septuagint); Isaiah 59:7,8 and Psalm 36:1.

Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.

-Romans 3:19-20 (NASB)

This continues Paul’s point that even if Jews are obedient to the mitzvot, obedience without faith does not justify one before God. Only faith and obedience. The whole world is accountable to God. Does that mean the whole world is obligated to the Torah mitzvot in the manner of the Jews? Some might conclude that we are based in this single verse. On the other hand, taking the larger Biblical narrative into account, we know that Israel was to be a light to the world, and up to the time of Messiah’s first advent, that light hadn’t been producing a lot of illumination.

light-of-the-worldBut it’s by Israel’s light that the world was intended to be informed of God and His blessings, as well as be informed of what constituted both righteousness and sin. The Torah, among its many other purposes, defines what it is to disobey God and thus be condemned. But even an awareness of the Law and being behaviorally compliant is insufficient if there is no Kavanah or intension, sometimes expressed as “direction of the heart”.

Although Jews and the Gentiles in Messiah had different (overlapping) behavioral obligations, they were all judged based, not necessarily on the perfection of their performance, but on the presence or absence of faith, devotion, and motivation. All have sinned and fallen short of God’s expectations, but if a man like King David who sinned greatly with the affair and impregnation of the married woman Batsheva, the murder of her husband Uriah, and attempting to cover it all up by quickly marrying Batsheva after the mourning period for her husband’s death had passed, could still repent and be considered “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14) specifically because of the quality of David’s kavanah, then so could the less than perfect Jews Paul was referencing in his letter.

But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

-Romans 3:21-26 (NASB)

We might condense the above-quoted statement to say something like, “But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested through faith in Jesus Christ.” That makes it seem as if faith in Christ has replaced the Law (Torah observance) as a means of being considered righteousness. Except that Torah observance was never considered a means of righteousness. Only faith.

Then he believed in the LORD; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness.

-Genesis 15:6 (NASB)

Abraham was considered righteous by God because of his faith, long before the Torah was given at Sinai and even before the commandment of circumcision as a sign of God’s covenant with Abraham. Thus it is faith that is the common denominator across all populations, Jewish and Gentile, that reckons anyone as righteous before a Holy God.

That seems to explain part of what Paul is saying in Romans 3:21-26, but what about faith in Jesus Christ, in Yeshua HaMashiach? Up until now, faith in Hashem, God of the Heavens was required. What changed?

The second elementary teaching of the Messiah in Hebrews 6:12 is called “faith toward God,” but how is this distinct from other first-century sects of Judaism? Even the Sadducees believed in God. Find out how Yeshua transformed the faith of his followers, and get a fresh handle on what it means to “believe in Jesus” and to be “born again.”

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twenty: Faith Toward God
Originally presented on June 15, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

That is exactly the question D.T. Lancaster answers in the above-quoted sermon in his “Hebrews” series, which I reviewed a number of weeks ago. I also mentioned this topic in a related blog post called Why No One Comes To The Father Except Through The Son.

What changed? Why was devotion solely to Hashem no longer the target to be aimed at for a devout Jew? Actually, that’s not what changed. As mentioned in both of my commentaries on Lancaster, the Jesus-believing Jews of “the Way” and the Pharisees had almost exactly the same set of beliefs about God. There was only a slight variance between them and you could almost call Paul and the other Jesus-believing Jews “Pharisees with a Messianic twist.”

AbrahamYou might say that God’s plan for the ultimate redemption of Israel had been progressing forward in time since Abraham. If you look at the pattern of the covenants, you’ll see God building, step by step, on His plan, establishing the promises with Abraham, carrying them out through Isaac, and Jacob, the exile of Jacob’s family to Egypt where they grew into a great multitude, the raising up of Moses and Aaron, leading them out of Egyptian slavery and on their many journeys, and culminating at Sinai with the establishing of the Mosaic covenant and the giving of the Torah, forming the nation of Israel as the light to the world.

But it didn’t end there. Even after possessing the Land, national Israel struggled. Their history is clear. Did God’s plan fail? Did Israel fail? No. The plan was incomplete. It was never meant to encompass just Israel, but the whole world through Israel.

That’s why the New Covenant was prophesied through Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah, and many other prophets. The New Covenant would be written, not on scrolls or tablets, but on the Jewish heart, so that Israel could finally perfectly observe the mitzvot with absolute kavanah and without sin.

Messiah, among other things, was the herald of the New Covenant. He brought the beginning of the inauguration of that Covenant with his birth into the world, receiving the Holy Spirit, his ability to heal, his correct teachings, his death and resurrection, and his promise to return.

He was the messenger of the next logical, Biblical, evolutionary step in God’s redemptive plan, his Good News to the nation of Israel, and through Israel’s redemption, the salvation of the world as well.

At each step in the plan, the Jewish people could continue to have faith in God or not. Many did. Some didn’t. The Bible records their fate. Messiah came not to say “believe in me instead of God” but “believe in me because of God for I am His messenger and through my message you can come fully and completely, in a way never before realized by any living Jew, to God the Father, Master of Legions, Author of Life.”

Another step and a really big one in God’s plan. Accept or reject. Faith or faithlessness. You choose.

new heartThe choice was given to Gentiles for the first time since the establishment of the Israelite nation. No longer would a non-Jew have to undergo the proselyte ritual and convert to Judaism. No longer would a Gentile be required to affiliate with a tribe or clan of Israel (as they did in the days of Moses). Now, because of the New Covenant promises and how they include the Abrahamic blessings to the nations, all people of every nation, tribe, and tongue can, through Messiah, come alongside Israel, just as it was prophesied, and take part in the covenant blessings of God by being grafted into the root.

Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one.

-Romans 3:27-30 (NASB)

Paul might be saying, so, having said all that, do Jews get to brag that they are justified and made righteous by being born Jews or even by observance of the mitzvot? No. Yes, being born Jewish and having the Torah has terrific advantages as I said, but ultimately, no one is justified by being born a Jew or by being physically circumcised. Justification, for a Jew or Gentile, comes only through a faith like Abraham’s.

I can see Paul really needing to make this point to the Gentile Jesus-believers reading the letter. I can see how they could be really confused in the face of non-believing Jews telling them that justification and righteousness comes only through being Jewish. Paul needed to set them straight and orient them and their Jewish counterparts, to the reality of the “law of faith”. God is a God of the Jews and a God to the Gentiles so both the Jews and Gentiles have their hope in Him through Messiah’s Good News.

But Paul has to be particularly careful. In emphasizing faith, he can’t be seen to diminish the reality and the vital importance of the Torah or of Jewish identity. Remember, the Jews still have many great advantages over the Gentiles (sorry, but it’s true) as possessors of the words of God. Israel was the original recipient of Torah, and is the total and complete object of the Abrahamic, Mosaic, and New Covenants. It’s only through Israel that the rest of us have any hope of salvation at all, so let’s not get cocky.

That explains the last verse in the chapter:

Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.

-Romans 3:31 (NASB)

Especially according to the entire context of the letter as it has been presented so far, Paul’s statement couldn’t be plainer. Faith does not nullify, do away with, fulfill (in the sense of abolish), abolish, replace, or complete (in the sense of abolish) the Law. Faith establishes the Law!

That is, through a completeness of Jewish faith, in this context, in God through Messiah, the Law is established, fully founded in a way never conceived or before or if conceived of, never accomplished before in Jewish lives.

Remember, we have to view all of this through the New Covenant. Jesus was bringing the New Covenant into our world. The evidence was the fact that even the Gentiles were receiving the Holy Spirit (see Acts 10) just as the Jews had (Acts 2). The New Covenant was going to radically change the relationship between the Jewish people, the Holy Spirit, and observance of the mitzvot:

“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

-Jeremiah 31:33-34 (NASB)

Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.

-Ezekiel 36:26-27 (NASB)

When the New Covenant reaches fruition, God will write the Torah on the heart, and each Jewish person (and ultimately the rest of us) will have an apprehension of God that is so complete, that they/we will know God, as the prophets knew Him, as Moses knew Him, with complete intimacy, and all Israel’s sins (and the Gentiles’ attached to Israel through Messiah) will be forgiven.

the-divine-torahFurther, a completeness of the Holy Spirit will be poured out so that it will be possible for Israel to totally observe all of the Torah ordinances perfectly and without sin.

This is what it means when Paul says, Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.

The Torah will be established in the New Covenant era in a way that it never could have been at any other time in history, for the conditions of God’s covenant with Israel will no longer be limited to being recorded on scrolls but will, in some mysterious manner, be written on the Jewish heart and soul, and Israel will be enabled by the Holy Spirit to finally, perfectly be in obedience to God as God requires through the Torah.

And we Gentiles who come to faith in the God of Israel through Messiah will be grafted in and be sharers of the covenant blessings, living in the resurrection under the reign of King Messiah in perfect peace and knowledge of Israel’s God.

“Run to pursue even a minor mitzvah and flee from a transgression.”

-Ben Azzai, Pirkei Avot 5:2

Next up: Reflections on Romans 4.

Shabbat Shalom.

Toco Hills

Is There More Than One Right Way To Be An Observant Jew?

Shabbat Shalom, everyone. And I know that the Orthodox way has its charm, its appeal, but the cost of living like the old days in this postmodern world is very high. This article is about the real price of being Orthodox in Atlanta and completely following the traditions.

-Derek Leman
as quoted from Facebook

I don’t mean to be unkind to Derek, but my impression of the above-quoted comment is that keeping an Orthodox lifestyle is “quaint, ” impractical, and largely unnecessary for Jewish living. Maybe I’m getting Derek all wrong, but I think he’s missing the point.

But first things first. Derek is commenting on an article written by Asher Elbein for Tablet Magazine called Grappling With the Rising Cost of Being Orthodox.

Here’s a sample:

For Orthodox Jews everywhere, the cost of being observant has always been high; day schools, kosher food, and housing have always been expensive. But those costs have risen dramatically in recent years. And for residents of Toco Hills (a Modern Orthodox enclave near Atlanta, GA), where housing costs have climbed even as the recession has lowered people’s incomes and reduced their savings—and many breadwinners have lost their jobs—the costs have become a major burden. According to Rabbi Ilan Feldman, leader of Congregation Beth Jacob, a grand shul at the center of the community, 100 of the 600 families living here are on federal or local assistance, a number that has risen gradually but consistently since 2010.

The article highlights Tzivia Silverstein, an Orthodox Jew and an unemployed single mother.

Her mother is helping out, Silverstein says, and she’s getting some child support from her husband, but making ends meet is a continuous struggle. Most of her time is now spent looking for work, preferably something steady, like bagging or cashiering at a local grocery store. But finding a position that doesn’t require weekend time has been difficult. “That’s been a classic challenge of American Jewry, you know?” she said. “Do you work on Shabbat or not? You have trouble earning money because you can’t work on Saturday, and you have to take off for holidays.”

In the Facebook conversation regarding this article, Derek commented that Conservative Judaism “is a good middle ground,” but is this really such an easy choice, like choosing which food items to put on your plate at the local Golden Corral restaurant? Although Tzivia was born into a Reform home, many Jews are born and raised in Orthodox Judaism. It is, for them, more than a “lifestyle.” It’s a life.

The Orthodox Jewish community has a certain mystique.

Whether it’s because we look, act or believe differently, people are intrigued by stories about the Orthodox Jewish community. Media outlets often oblige but whenever I read these stories, they don’t quite resonate with me. They don’t look like the Orthodox community I know. So I’d like to share a few things that happened to me over the last year that give a more accurate insight into the real Orthodox Jewish community.

-Shimon Rosenberg
“The Orthodox Community I Know”
Aish.com

Even in other branches of Judaism, the Orthodox (and there’s more than one expression of Orthodox Judaism, from Modern to Chasidic) are looked at somewhat askance. They are seen as rigid, judgmental, archaic, and even uneducated. Many hold to a very literal understanding that the Earth is 5,774 years old (the current year on the Jewish religious calendar is 5774).

Orthodox JewsOn top of that, the Orthodox are considered the most “rule heavy” expression of Judaism and, as the Tablet Mag article attests, being Orthodox and strictly observant is very expensive.

Contrary to popular belief, not all Jews are wealthy or even comfortably middle-class. Some Jews, like Tzivia Silverstein, are barely making it. But what else is Orthodox Judaism? Let’s return to Shimon Rosenberg’s answers:

My wife and I have experienced fertility problems. We thankfully had been blessed with two children but as they grew older we had been trying for some time to have another child to no avail. One day I was speaking with my rabbi about our situation and I conveyed to him that my wife and I wanted to pursue fertility treatments but because of the steep cost, we were having second thoughts. A few days later my rabbi said that he spoke with an anonymous individual with means in the Jewish community who had agreed to sponsor fertility treatment for young Jewish couples if they could not afford it. He would not know who we were and we would not know who he was. He was motivated purely out of a sense of loyalty to the continuity of the Jewish People.

That’s the Orthodox community I know.

I’ll admit to experiencing a certain amount of dissonance between the Tablet Mag and Aish articles, since you’d think Rosenberg’s Orthodox Judaism would somehow step in and help out Silverstein to the degree that she could acquire a job with an adequate income and not struggle so hard to make ends meet.

I also experienced the same dissonance with how Sue Fishkoff described the Chabad in her book The Rebbe’s Army in relation to some of the experiences my wife has had with the local Chabad Rabbi and Rebbitzen (no, they’re not bad people, but they are human, not the morally and ethically superhuman people Fishkoff often described in her book).

But the costs involved in living Orthodox in Toco Hills continue to rise and there’s only so much help available for lower-income Jewish families:

Many Orthodox families, especially those on the lower end of the economic ladder, simply can’t keep up with the prices. So, they turn to underground charities like Yad L’Yad, an Atlanta-based organization that works exclusively with the area’s Jewish community. According to Esther Pranskey, the organization’s head, the number of recipient families more than doubled when the recession struck and has continued to rise steadily. More than 30 families—including the Silversteins—currently receive provisions of flour, rice, pickles, and other essentials. While basic, the deliveries help ease the pressure. The Silversteins rarely go out to eat, and their meals aren’t extravagant affairs, but they stay fed and they stay kosher.

shabbosBut as Rosenberg attests in his continuing chronicle of his daughter’s birth, there are other occasional helpers:

The excitement began early Friday morning and as the day progressed I started thinking about Shabbat. What would we eat? How would I recite Kiddush? Light candles? I remembered hearing about an organization called Bikkur Cholim which means “visiting the sick.” It’s a volunteer-driven charity that looks after the needs of people in hospital. I called them and within a couple of hours someone came to our hospital room with literally bags of food, grape juice for Kiddush, electric candles to serve as Shabbat candles, even spices for havdallah. The food is free and the person delivering it is a volunteer. In the few moments I had to speak with him I learned that he was just a regular guy — an accountant — who takes off Fridays from work to volunteer for Bikkur Cholim. I asked him why he does it and he replied simply that it’s what God wants of us.

That’s the Orthodox community I know.

The Tablet Mag article doesn’t exactly end on an up beat, but it does describe why being Orthodox isn’t just a casual choice:

“I know it’s not the smart thing to do,” Wittenberg said. “I’d love to sell my house and move out somewhere cheaper. There’s not a day goes by when my wife and I don’t talk about it. But I’m a baal teshuvah. I’m choosing to be observant. And if I’m going to struggle through this Torah, then my kids need to have friends. They need to be in the community.”

For Silverstein, it comes down to value instead of cost. In terms of personal and spiritual fulfillment, she says, the neighborhood pays for itself. As heavy as the expenses are, they are necessary sacrifices for belonging to the community. “I see maybe one movie a year,” she said. “I choose to put my kids through religious school instead of buying a nicer car. It’s astounding, the amount of money that other people have, to spend on things like renovating their house or buying a bigger TV. To me, my most important relationship is with God. The material world is a means to an end.”

I’d love to copy and paste all of Rosenberg’s write-up here but I’ll restrain myself to its ending as well:

After two weeks in the hospital, the doctors told us we could go home. In the end, they said they would monitor her condition, but over time it would likely go away on its own.

Our two kids at home were delighted at the return of their baby sister. They helped her and cared for her and nurtured her. As a parent, there’s no better feeling than seeing your children care for one another. Likewise, when God watched how my community took care of my family in our time of need, I think He too had that parental pleasure, so to speak.

I wish I could thank my community publicly for everything that they’ve done but I am writing this under a pseudonym to protect the privacy of my family. But I know that my community doesn’t want a public thank you. They were just doing what they do.

That is the Orthodox community I know.

Derek Leman
Derek Leman

Getting back to the Facebook commentary, why would being Orthodox seem to be such as casual selection (and I apologize if I’m mischaracterizing the motives or intent of Derek and the others dialoging in the thread)?

One person made the following comment:

I think Yeshua will be a conservative Jew. Orthodoxy is more interested in keeping Torah( or the rabbinical interpretation of Torah) with rigidity. Creating it to be a burden, and simple works that do not bring us closer to Hashem . Reform is too liberal, and mostly a social club than a house of worship. I believe all Jews want to serve Hashem,they just have different interpretations on how to do it. The MJ I attend leans towards the conservative tradition.

I suppose we all have our own theories on what sort of Judaism Yeshua (Jesus) will advocate and teach upon his return (although Christians probably don’t imagine he’ll practice Judaism at all), but we are operating in a vacuum. We don’t know that Messiah will formally support a currently existing branch of Judaism. But if you read Matthew 23:1-3 as I do, you see Jesus not only agreeing with the teachings of the Pharisees but stating that they had the right to issue binding halachah (legal rulings) for their community, which apparently included Yeshua’s disciples.

That would at least hint that in the future Messianic Age, he will support a more strictly observant lifestyle which probably will include a variety of traditions such as Netilat Yadayim (ritual hand washing). That’s a guess, but I hope it’s an educated guess.

Of course modern Messianic Judaism, like all of the other more normative Judaisms, doesn’t represent a single, overarching identity or philosophy. Derek is affiliated with the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) which he describes as “the oldest (and best) network of Messianic Jewish congregations in the U.S.” If you go to the Introduction page of the Standards section of the Messianic Jewish Rabbinical Council, which provides the oversight for the training and ordination of UMJC Rabbis such as Derek, you can find a PDF document called Standards of Observance which outlines in some detail the “worship, ethics, education, (and) halakhic standards” established by this body. Without going into exquisite detail, those standards seem largely to be Reform with some elements of Conservative Judaism.

I don’t doubt that those particular standards were selected with the majority Gentile attendance of UMJC synagogues in mind. Although I know more than a few non-Jewish people who have basically run out of their churches and into a Messianic Jewish lifestyle of one sort or another, almost all of them are not observing halachah to the level of an Orthodox Jew or anywhere near it.

Messianic Judaism is even now just beginning to emerge into its own as an authentically Jewish expression of Yeshua-faith, but it has a long way to go. As a relatively new branch of Judaism (I realize I’m going to receive a lot of “push back” by calling Messianic Judaism a Judaism at all), it’s still trying to “find its feet,” so to speak. UMJC is only one organization representing Messianic Judaism and its codified standards only apply to the affiliated Rabbis and synagogues under the UMJC banner. Other Messianic Jewish groups (as opposed to One Law/One Torah, Two House, Ephraimite, or Sacred Name groups) may follow different standards, either established by a different umbrella organization or at the level of the individual synagogue/congregation.

Even within those groups, Jewish individuals and families may hold to varying degrees of observance, some more stringent and some less than their faith communities. I’ve found that to be true of many of the Jewish families who attend the local Reform/Conservative shul. I’ve heard some people there comment that they think the Rabbi is “too religious”.

Modern IsraelI say all this not to be unkind to Derek, anyone who has conversed with him on Facebook, the UMJC in particular or Messianic Judaism in general. I am saying that religious Jews all over the world make decisions about what being observant means to them and what their duties to Hashem are in this world.

Both Wittenberg and Silverstein in the Tablet Mag article say they’ve made their choices and that being Orthodox, though sometimes a terrific financial struggle, is worth it to them. They seem to join with Rosenberg in saying that the community life of Orthodox Judaism is woven not just across the collective community, but in each of their individual lives, binding one Jew to another.

Even watching my Jewish wife, who has a fairly relaxed observance, particularly compared to Chabad, relate to other Jews and to the Jewish community (regardless of synagogue affiliation) testifies to this bond between Jews, a bond I can’t be a part of and admittedly don’t really understand. Although my wife wasn’t raised even as a secular/cultural Jew (long story), the “Jewish connection” seems to come from her very DNA and is firmly anchored to her soul. It just needed an expression which my wife has since discovered.

So while I can recognize, at least on the outside (far, far outside) looking in, that living as an Orthodox Jew can be a struggle, I can also see that it has many rewards. I certainly don’t see the justification in criticizing a Jewish person’s decision about how to be a Jew. I know if I tried that with my spouse, she’d promptly explain to me in no uncertain terms that she didn’t need my advice or permission on how to be Jewish (that happened exactly once and I’ll not cross that boundary again).

I apologize if I’ve ruffled feathers, but we must admit that in the present world, there seems to be more than one acceptable manner by which an observant Jew can live as a Jew. When Moshiach comes and teaches Torah, then we will know more.

In the meantime, we should not criticize the level of a Jewish person’s observance, especially if it’s more strict than our own (or rather than another Jew’s observance). The world, including the Christian world, has tried for thousands of years to destroy the Jewish people and Judaism using many and varied means. The current method of choice is assimilation by reducing the Jew’s observance and sense of Jewish identity to zero or close to it, thereby turning that Jewish person into a Gentile with Jewish genes.

I know no one has suggested this, but it’s the natural result of telling a Jew not to be so “religious.”

Utilize every opportunity to become aware of the Almighty’s kindness. This awareness will motivate you to emulate the Almighty and make the attribute of kindness an integral part of your personality.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

“If tomorrow, God forbid, I’ll hear the worst news, I don’t want my children to feel that where did all my prayers go?” -Rachel Frankel

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