Questions That Would Cross a Rabbi’s Eyes

Hashem, your God, shall you follow and Him shall you fear; His commandments shall you observe and to His voice shall you hearken; Him shall you serve and to Him shall you cleave.

Deuteronomy 13:5 (Stone Edition Chumash)

Yeshua said to him, I am the way and the truth and the life. No one will come to the Father except through me.

John 14:6 (DHE Gospels)

The most important men in town will come to fawn on me
They will ask me to advise them,
Like a Solomon the Wise
“If you please, Reb Tevye?”
“Pardon me, Reb Tevye?”
Posing problems that would cross a rabbi’s eyes

from the song, “If I Were a Rich Man”
by Sheldon Hamick and Jerry Bock
Fiddler on the Roof (1971)

I ponder this mystery off and on but it’s a profound one, at least to me. The church often asks the question, “Were the Israelites saved?” Opinions vary. A very literalist interpretation of John 14:6 says, “no,” since Jesus wasn’t there at Sinai. But then I’ve heard that the salvation of Jesus spans across all time forward and back, so that anyone who has faith in God is saved by Jesus.

OK, wait. Isn’t that putting the cart before the horse?

And he trusted in Hashem, and He reckoned it to him as righteousness. –Genesis 15:6 (Stone Edition Chumash)

Abraham trusted in God and God alone and it was counted to him (by God) as righteousness. A Christian would say that Abraham’s faith in God saved him, just as our faith in Jesus saves us. See what I mean about “posing problems that would cross a rabbi’s eyes?” Are we talking about two paths of salvation, one through God and another through Jesus?

I don’t think that’s a sustainable viewpoint given the overarching message of the Bible to love and trust God and God only. On the other hand, if we invoke the deity of Jesus, then I suppose the problem is solved. If you have faith in Jesus then you have faith in God and vice versa. End of story.

Or is it?

For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. –Hebrews 10:4 (ESV)

So what exactly were the ancient Israelites doing, then? Why did God command them to perform animal sacrifices if they didn’t do any good?

Why do I need your numerous sacrifices? says Hashem. I am sated with elevation-offerings of rams and the fat of fatlings; the blood of bulls, sheep and goats I do not desire…Bring your worthless meal-offerings no longer, it is incense of abomination to Me. –Isaiah 1:11,13 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Obviously that didn’t work. I mean, God doesn’t seem to want the sacrifices that He previously said He wanted. Seems kind of fickle of God, doesn’t it.

Except it’s impossible for God to be fickle or inconsistent. So what’s the answer?

What does God want and who does He want us to have faith and trust in? If no one comes to the Father except through the Son, why didn’t He teach the ancient Israelites to worship the future Jesus instead of the God of Heaven? Why didn’t God teach Abraham to have trust in Jesus instead of Him, thus counting trust in Jesus as righteousness? Why did God bother teaching the ancient Israelites the sacrificial system in the first place?

Maybe I’m being too literal. Maybe I’m not being “mystic” enough. But it does seem like a head scratcher.

I keep thinking I’m on the cusp of an answer but somehow it always eludes me. I keep thinking that the key is “faith and trust in God.” Of course the blood of bulls and goats doesn’t save. It never did. What saved was that the ancient Israelites trusted in God and agreed to do everything He told them to.

Moses came and summoned the elders of the people, and put before them all these words that Hashem had commanded him. The entire people responded together and said, “Everything that Hashem has spoken we shall do!” –Exodus 19:7-8 (Stone Edition Chumash)

Faith and trust, and then obedience. It’s not so much that what we do has the power to save, it’s that what we do is a reflection of our faith and trust. If God tells us to sacrifice animals at such-and-thus a place in such-and-thus a manner, the sacrifices aren’t as important as our obedience to Him. If we perform the same sort of sacrifice in the same place and in the same manner as before, but not because of faith and trust, the sacrifices are meaningless. It’s always about faith and trust. So that takes care of the salvation of the ancient Israelites and Abraham before them.

But how to we deal with Jesus and “no one comes to the Father except through me?” It would seem as if all one has to do is have faith and trust in God the Father to be saved. What does Jesus have to do with it?

OK, I know I said before that Jesus does matter. After all, neither we people among the nations nor our distant ancestors stood at Sinai with the Israelites (mixed multitude notwithstanding), and so we do not possess the ancient covenant relationship with God. It is completely understandable that we Gentiles cannot “come to the Father except through the Son.” But what about the Jews?

I’m not so sure I can answer that one. To say that they are “saved” through Sinai means that there is two salvational paths, one for the Jews (Moses) and one for the Gentiles (Jesus). To say that only Jesus saves deconstructs the Sinai covenant and renders Judaism invalid post-Jesus. To say that only Moses saves means we have to throw out the New Testament, and salvation for the Gentiles only comes from conversion to Judaism or obedience to the Noahide Laws.

Traditional Christians would say that salvation through Jesus replaced the Law of Moses and they solve the question that way. Traditional Jews would say that the New Testament is invalid and Gentiles must either convert to Judaism or become Noahides and they solve the question that way. There is a group who tries to split the difference and says that everyone must comply to the terms of both the Mosaic and Davidic covenants and essentially behave both like Jews and like Christians, but as you’ve seen on this and other blogs in the Messianic blogosphere, that becomes hopelessly confusing relative to retaining any sense of Jewish vs. non-Jewish identity.

So what is the answer? I don’t know. I know that’s rather disappointing, but I’ve said numerous times before that I’m not a Bible scholar or historian. I’m a reasonably intelligent human being (depending on the day of the week, how much sleep I’ve had, and whether or not my wife is upset with some dumb thing I did), but the niggling little details of how to interpret the scriptures and the nuances of theology, doctrine, dogma, and so on escapes me.

But does that mean it’s forbidden for “ordinary Christians” to ask questions and pose problems about our faith? Gee, I hope not.

So am I stuck? No. By faith, I worship the One God of Israel. I know that my salvation hinges upon the truth of the Jewish Messiah. He is the vine and I am the branch. I will follow him in search of my answers and believe that ultimately, all truth of God is in him and through him. How it all works behind the scenes, I don’t know. Maybe someone out there does. I know I’m asking for another “punishing” debate and people will question my convictions, my intelligence, and maybe even my sanity.

But I can’t stop asking questions just because people are going to give me a hard time about them.

In the end, there’s God. In the beginning, too.

A prayer of Moses, the man of God. O Lord, You have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born, and You brought forth the earth and the inhabited world, and from everlasting to everlasting, You are God. You bring man to the crushing point, and You say, “Return, O sons of men.” For a thousand years are in Your eyes like yesterday, which passed, and a watch in the night. You carry them away as a flood; they are like a sleep; in the morning, like grass it passes away. In the morning, it blossoms and passes away; in the evening, it is cut off and withers. For we perish from Your wrath, and from Your anger we are dismayed. You have placed our iniquities before You, [the sins of] our youth before the light of Your countenance. For all our days have passed away in Your anger; we have consumed our years as a murmur. The days of our years because of them are seventy years, and if with increase, eighty years; but their pride is toil and pain, for it passes quickly and we fly away. Who knows the might of Your wrath, and according to Your fear is Your anger. So teach the number of our days, so that we shall acquire a heart of wisdom. Return, O Lord, how long? And repent about Your servants. Satiate us in the morning with Your loving-kindness, and let us sing praises and rejoice with all our days. Cause us to rejoice according to the days that You afflicted us, the years that we saw evil. May Your works appear to Your servants, and Your beauty to their sons. And may the pleasantness of the Lord our God be upon us, and the work of our hands establish for us, and the work of our hands establish it. –Psalm 90

Just a small note: this is my 500th meditation if anyone is intereseted.

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