Two Sons

Then you shall say to Pharaoh, ‘Thus says the Lord: Israel is My first-born son”.Exodus 4:22 (JPS Tanakh )

All Israel has a share in the World to Come, as is stated: “And your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever. They are the shoot of My planting, the work of My hands, in which I take pride.”Sanhedrin, 11:1

In what way is G-d our “father”? There are, of course, the obvious parallels. G-d creates us and provides us with sustenance and direction. He loves us with the boundless, all-forgiving love of a father.

Chassidic teaching delves further into the metaphor. It examines the biological and psychological dynamics of the father-child model, and employs them to better understand our relationship to each other and to our Father in Heaven.

Physically, what began in the father’s body and psyche is now a separate, distinct and (eventually) independent individual. Yet there is a good reason we say, “Like father like son.” On a deeper level, the child remains inseparable from his begetter.

In the words of the Talmud, “A son is a limb of his father.” At the very heart of his consciousness lies an inescapable truth: he is his father’s child, an extension of his being, a projection of his personality. In body, they have become two distinct entities; in essence they are one.

-from “The Awareness Factor”
Minding the Child: The Soul of a Metaphor commentary on
Ethics of Our Fathers (Avot Pirkei)
Chabad.org | Sivan 7, 5771 * June 9, 2011

Israel, the Jewish people, is the first-born son of God. The Father has lavished great love and blessings upon the son, and even when the son was disobedient and burdened with exile, persecution, and extreme hardships, God’s love never wavered. When Jacob and his family went down into Egypt, an act which ultimately would see the Children of Israel become slaves (Genesis 46:3-4), God went down with them. It is said that God went into exile with the Jews after the destruction of the Second Temple and the exile of His people from Israel. It is said that when the Jews went into the camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau, Dachau, Treblinka, and all the others, God went in with His people. God has “suffered” with his first-born son Israel for thousands of years because of His love of them and now He is bringing them back.

But what about the rest of us? Can the nations claim any “sonship” before God, and if so, under what circumstances?

It depends on who you ask.

The Seven Laws of Noah demonstrate that almighty G-d has rules and laws for all human beings …and that G-d loves us all. He does not leave anyone, Jew or non-Jew without guidance. To the non-Jew He has given the Seven Commandments.

-from noahide.org

To the Jewish people G-d gave the entire Torah [teaching] as their Law. They therefore have a special responsibility—with special commandments—to be the priesthood of the world, a “light unto the nations.”

What about the rest of the world? What is G-d’s will for them?

G-d gave Noah and all his descendants (B’nei Noach or “children of Noah”) seven commandments to obey. These seven universal laws (known as the “Seven Noahide Laws”) were reaffirmed with Moses and the Jewish people at Mt. Sinai in what is now known as the Oral Torah, establishing modern observance of these laws. These seven commandments (mitzvos), actually seven categories of hundreds of specific laws, are G-d’s will for all non-Jews.

-from noahide.com

The vast majority of the Jewish world believes that all of humanity is loved and cherished by God and may merit a place in the world to come if they obey God’s commandments to them. The Children of Israel have a very special covenant status in relation to God with equally special duties and responsibilities, but that doesn’t leave the rest of humanity out in the cold. While the Children of Israel were charged with being “a light to the nations”, we, the nations, were charged with being attracted to and learning from “the light” that our responsibilities to God (perhaps as “second-born sons”) are encompassed in the Seven Laws of Noah. The first-born son is “B’nei Yisrael” (the Children of Israel) and those of us who cling to God and conform to the Noahide commandments are considered “B’nei Noach” (Children of Noah).

The Christian viewpoint regarding non-Jewish “sonship” differs quite a bit. Judaism says that a non-Jew doesn’t have to convert to Judaism to be loved and cared for by God. Christianity requires that everyone, even Jews (who already have a covenant relationship with the Creator) must convert to Christianity and in the process, surrender the Mosaic covenant for a “better” one, abandoning all that it is to be a Jew. Only once you convert to Christianity, whether you’re a Jew or otherwise, are you truly included in God’s love.

I know. It doesn’t make much sense to me, either.

Yet, Jesus did bring the non-Jews something special and unique that we cannot possess otherwise, even as B’nei Noach.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will… –Ephesians 1:3-5

I can’t read ancient Greek (or modern Greek for that matter), but I’ll accept the biblegateway.com commentary on Ephesians 1:5 that the “Greek word for adoption to sonship is a legal term referring to the full legal standing of an adopted male heir in Roman culture”. Since Paul wouldn’t consider that the Jewish people needed to be “adopted” by God since they are His “first-born son”, then in this context, Paul must be writing to a non-Jewish group of Christian disciples.

Through the process of coming to faith in God by trusting in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, anyone can become an adopted child of the Most High as a full covenant member. This does not mean a full covenant member of the Mosaic covenant, the Torah and its 613 commandments, but it does grant us a special status to approach the throne, side-by-side, with our Jewish “older brother”.

Most Jews don’t see it that way, and given the heinous treatment of the Jews by the church over the last two thousand years or so, I don’t blame them. Nevertheless, as Christians, here we are, and by faith and God’s providence, here we stay. We can learn from our mistakes and repent, give glory to God, and remember that the Jews honored and cherished the Torah, the Shabbat, and God’s sovereignty for several millennium, while the non-Jewish nations were bowing to pieces of wood and stone and passing their children through sacrificial fires.

“When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ So he got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

“The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’

“But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate. –Luke 15:17-24

This parable is typically (and correctly) interpreted as Christ’s desire to redeem “the lost sheep of Israel” and not a commentary on the “unsaved” nations, but please permit me to add a personal understanding.

While the Children of Israel were close to God, the rest of us were far off if, for no other reason, than we had not even heard of the God of Israel. We see examples in the Apostolic scriptures (Acts 10:1-3 and Acts 17:10-12, for example) of those non-Jews who did hear of and come to faith in the God of Israel and who worshiped at synagogues as “God-fearers” (Noahides?) but we have every indication that though worshipers of God, they had no covenant status, no “sonship” relating to the Almighty. However, we were welcomed out of paganism and into “sonship” through the Jewish Messiah, who gives the true meaning of the Torah and redeems the lost of Israel and also grants the right to the Gentiles to become sons and daughters of God.

In my family, I am the oldest son. I have one younger brother who was born when I was ten. Because I am the first-born, my father doesn’t love my brother any less than he loves me. Sure, my brother and I are really different people, especially due to our age difference, and our father has a different sort of relationship with each of us based on our personalities and such, but the love is the love. We are sons. He is our father.

I won’t go into the dynamics of families who have “born” and “adopted” children but as you can imagine, it’s not uncommon for the adopted kids, especially if they were adopted at an older age, to wonder if they are just as loved as the “born” children. I can’t speak for all adopted families and what they experience, but I can say with confidence that, with God as our Father, we are all loved equally (Galatians 3:28); the first-born son and the adopted son.

There is no truth about G‑d.
Truth is G-d.

There is no one who learns Truth.
You become Truth.

There is no need to search for Truth.
You have inherited it and it is within you.

You need only learn quietness
to listen to that inheritance.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Become Truth”
Chabad.org

God loves both sons and all we have to do to realize it is to “learn quietness and to listen to that inheritance”. But given the long and difficult history between Christians and Jews, do we love each other?

The Otzar HaYir’ah, zt”l, explains why shekalim serve to unify every Jew with the community. “We give specifically half-shekels to teach an important lesson: that without the community we are nothing. Since every individual has a mission to fulfill which no one else can achieve, it is easy to feel uniquely different. We must never feel separated from our friends since, at the root, all Jews are one.

“To teach that we all need each other, each person gives half a shekel – which is only completed through another Jew’s half shekel. This shows that we are only complete when we are unified with our friend. This brings to great feelings of brotherhood and nullifies our natural tendency towards feeling uniquely alone.”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories off the Daf
“The Power of Community”
Menachos 93

While the Otzar HaYir’ah, zt”l is speaking of the Jewish community and the need one Jew has for his people, I would like to extend the metaphor to include how we “sons” need each other, the Jewish and the Christian sons. We may have a difficult time relating as “siblings” (not all that uncommon in some families), but we can try to learn to trust each other, to forgive the insults and injuries of the past, to turn to a common Father, and through His love for us, learn to love each other.

3 thoughts on “Two Sons”

  1. I received a response on Facebook regarding the content of today’s blog post. Since my response will likely exceed the text-length limitations of Facebook, I’ll respond here. First, Michael Karhan’s comment:

    Michael wrote: “Your blog suggests that Israel has not been adopted as well. How might you interpret these passages? Romans 9:4who are Israelites. To THEM belong the ADOPTION as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple worship, and the promises. 5 To them belong the patriarchs, and from them, by human descent, came the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever! Amen. Eph1:5 He did this by predestining US to ADOPTION as his sons through Jesus Christ, according to the pleasure of his will – Gal4:5 But when the appropriate time had come, God sent out his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, so that WE may be ADOPTED as sons with full rights.”

    You make some good points, Michael. The scriptures you quote certainly point to the Jewish people being adopted by God with full rights as sons through Jesus Christ. Yet these points also seem to contradict what God has said about the Children of Israel before:

    Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn sonExodus 4:22

    because I am Israel’s father, and Ephraim is my firstborn sonJeremiah 31:9

    Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?Micah 6:7

    If we look at this in a linear fashion, it would seem as if the Children of Israel were God’s firstborn son in the Old Testament but then had to be adopted and given the rights of a son in the NT. The giving of the Torah at Sinai to the Children of Israel (Exodus 19-20) is often compared to a wedding ceremony, where God, the groom, enters into a formal “marriage” with His “bride” Israel. If we look at it as an “adoption ceremony” of sorts and we choose not to look at Paul’s comments in a temporal and linear fashion, I suppose we could make the inconsistency fit. Otherwise, I don’t know.

    I can’t resolve why the Children of Israel would be called “God’s firstborn” in the OT and yet have Paul saying that Israel was “adopted” by God, unless that “adoption” occurred at Sinai. There’s certainly nothing in Romans 9:1-5 to suggest otherwise. If your response is that Paul said, “In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:5), the only way to resolve Paul’s comments relative to the OT, assuming he’s talking to a non-Jewish audience, is to say that we were all predestined to be adopted as sons of God, but for the Children of Israel, this occurred at the Sinai event, while for non-Jews, this option wasn’t available until the coming of Christ.

    I don’t mean to say that the acceptance or rejection of the Jewish Messiah for Jews would not be critical. Paul laments this issue in Romans 9, but Israel already possessed “sonship” in Exodus. Additionally, Paul said that eventually, all of Israel would be saved (Romans 11:25-26), so it’s not as if God replaced Israel as firstborn son with the church.

    Of course, the matter could even become more complicated if we compare God’s statement that Israel is His firstborn son (as opposed to first adopted) and that the non-Jews were adopted through Christ and subsequently given “sonship” rights, but we have enough on our plate already, so to speak.

    I wish I had a straight-forward answer for you Michael, but the Biblical record does state, regardless of Paul, that Israel was chosen in Exodus and actually in Genesis if you take Abraham into consideration.

    I look forward to hearing your further insights.

  2. I guess the way I look at it is that it seems paul is refering to the idea that in Mashiach those who identify with him are “sons” as he is. I’m not sure of your thoughts on the “sonship” of Yeshua but it could be that he is the only Israelite that could claim sonship in the way Paul is referring to.

    As for the exodus passage couldn’t it be that HaShem is only saying it in juxtaposition to the comment about slaying pharaohs “firstborn” so figuratively. Also in Dt 32:6

    As for the Jer passage it was Manasseh who was actually the firstborn and in the blessing Ephriam became the “favored firstborn” so to speak perhaps that’s all that is intended by the mentioning of israel as “firstborn”

    Micah firstborn seems to be referring to a worshiper offering to HaShem not that haShem is the one speaking.

    I’m sure anyone could just be critical of these verses and there may be better ones out there I know there is the reference made in the “gosples” about “out of Egypt I called my son” and it’s interesting to note how the verse goes from “him” to “them” in Num23:22-24:8 and hos 11:1 compare MS to LXX also.

    Thoughts?

  3. As for the exodus passage couldn’t it be that HaShem is only saying it in juxtaposition to the comment about slaying pharaohs “firstborn” so figuratively. Also in Dt 32:6

    Why does this have to be figurative? Why can’t we take God at His word that the Children of Israel are His sons and daughters and collectively, Israel is His son?

    As for the Jer passage it was Manasseh who was actually the firstborn and in the blessing Ephriam became the “favored firstborn” so to speak perhaps that’s all that is intended by the mentioning of israel as “firstborn”

    Saying Manasseh is God’s firstborn son is poetic language meaning Israel as a whole.

    about “out of Egypt I called my son” and it’s interesting to note how the verse goes from “him” to “them”

    If we consider the Jewish Messiah to be the embodiment of Israel and, as an individual, God’s firstborn son, then perhaps Israel as a people and the Messiah as an individual can be considered interchangable in terms of their “sonship” status.

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