Provoking Zealousness

zealous-torah-studyWhen Gentile Christians come into a more Jewish understanding of their faith, the initial response is excitement at the clarity it brings to the Scriptures and the person of Messiah. After a period of time, however, questions of identity arise as they are immersed in a heavily Israel and Judeo-centric environment where everything, including the synagogue liturgy, speaks almost exclusively of the Jewish people and their relationship to God. Understandably this would cause certain insecurities to arise, and perhaps even a feeling of: “What am I? Chopped liver?”

-Jordan Levy
“The Crowning Jewels of the Nations”
from Messiah Journal, issue 112 (Winter 2013/5773), pg 14
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

I had the opportunity to meet and get to know Jordan at FFOZ’s 2012 Shavuot Conference last Spring, so whenever I read something she’s written, I can “hear” her voice in my head, as if she’s reciting everything to me. I guess that makes reading “The Crowning Jewels of the Nations” (I commented on the first time I heard her say that phrase in this meditation) seem more personal.

Just yesterday, I published a morning meditation on distinctions (which I wrote before reading Jordan’s article) and now I can see how I can better build up what I’ve been trying to say by borrowing from Jordan’s perspective on the same matter. To be fair, I’ve been pondering all this since the last time I saw her and the other FFOZ writers and scholars, and the portrait that they have been painting before my eyes over the past eight months or so has become continually more clear and meaningful. In speaking of tikkun olam, I can also hear my own voice as I read Jordan’s words.

One thing we must clarify from the start in this movement, which contains within it a mixed multitude, is the healthy distinction between Jew and Gentile. But why is there a distinction at all? And why should we be so zealous and stalwart in trying to maintain it? Because if we do not, then the Gentiles will not be able to participate in the redemption of Israel and the redemption of the world at all!

-Levy, pg 14

What? Jordan is saying that we Gentile believers must maintain a specific and distinct identity from the believing Jews in the Messianic community in order to fulfill our unique role in performing tikkun olam. In other words, by some Gentiles mimicking Jewish identity, they are excluding themselves from the very purpose God designed them (us) to fulfill.

Most Christians in most churches don’t have any sort of problem in maintaining an identity distinction separate from the Jews but neither do most of them (us) believe that they have any special duty to the Jews because of that distinction. Interestingly enough, I wrote about such a Christian duty just a few days ago, but Jordan points to something even bigger.

Then the sons of foreigners will build your walls and their kings will serve you. Though I struck you in My indignation, in My favor have I been compassionate to you.

Isaiah 60:10 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

In Isaiah, God speaks through the prophet, saying: “Foreigners shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister to you; for in my wrath I struck you, but in my favor I have had mercy on you.” The natural and honest conclusion that is reached from this verse is that the Gentile task is rebuilding the fallen walls of Israel, creating fortification and security in order that Israel might complete their task, which is, according to the same prophet, to rebuild the ancient ruins, to raise up the foundations of many generations, and to repair the breach (Isaiah 58:12). Jews cannot do this if the Gentiles do not first build the protective walls.

-Levy, pg 15

Given the context, I don’t imagine we’re talking about groups of Christians rebuilding literal walls around Jerusalem, so what are we rebuilding?

Gentiles have the unique opportunity to provide comfort for the aching Jewish heart and soul. With a long, brutal history of persecution – inquisitions, blood libels, pogroms, holocausts – from the non-Jewish world, believing Gentiles are provided with the mission, as non-Jews themselves, of rectifying past wrongs and fulfilling the words spoken by HaShem: “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed;” or by King David: “You made me the head of the nations; people whom I had not known served me.” (Psalm 18:43)

-Levy, pg 16

MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAChristians cannot play out our role in history and in the economy of God’s plan for us of repairing our damaged relationship with the Jews if we insist on fusing our identity with the Jewish people. In doing so, we would not only prevent the Jews from accomplishing their Holy tasks, we would be undermining our own. Often Jews in the Messianic movement (and Christians like me) complain that Christianity, even within Hebrew Roots, has a long history of attempting to supersede the unique Jewish role and identity, but the door swings both ways according to Jordan.

However, in just this same manner, Jews cannot replace or supersede Gentiles within God’s master plan either. Jews do not possess the sole power of bringing about God’s will and kingdom; this is a joint effort that requires each distinct group to play their own distinct role.

-ibid

Not that Jews really desire to “supersede” the Christian role in “God’s master plan” but it does add some perspective in terms of just how important our role is and how so much hinges upon the Gentile Christian maintaining his/her identity in order to fulfill God’s will in summoning the Kingdom of Heaven within our midst.

That may require more than a little sacrifice on our part. I used to entertain the fantasy of making aliyah to Israel (this was quite a number of years ago and I have since abandoned that ambition). After all, my wife is Jewish and if she made aliyah, as her spouse, naturally, I would be allowed to live in Israel with her. For those of us who, for whatever reason, are drawn to Judaism, Jewish thought and philosophy, and a love of the Land of Israel, there is a desire to not only walk her hills and explore her springs and deserts, but to actually live there and be part of supporting the Land.

Alas, for most of us, it is not to be, for that is not our place.

I desperately wish to make clear that, according to Scripture, the Gentile calling is not to try to get to the land of Israel for themselves, their call is to bring the Jewish people to the land! As the prophesy states: “Behold, I will lift up my hand to the nations, and raise my signal to the peoples; and they shall bring your sons in their arms, and your daughters shall be carried on their shoulders.” (Isaiah 49:22)

-Levy, pg 17

Jordan calls the Gentile Christians to be like “wall builders surrounding the Jewish people like a fortress,” evoking images of Christian protector over the people and nation of Israel. Given current political realities, at least in the United States, it seems difficult to imagine how we could make that come true unless we could somehow override the present direction of our Government toward Israel and Middle East policy.

However, there may be another road available.

So I ask, did they stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through their trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles, so as to make Israel jealous.

Romans 11:11 (ESV)

Many non-Jews have quoted the Romans 11:11 clause to “making the Jews jealous” as their main mandate as Gentile believers, and many have attempted to do this through various different methods; few have been successful. Understandably, living a life with the purpose of making people turn green with envy is not a covetous calling for someone who loves the LORD and loves his people. This word from Paul, let’s be honest, seems somewhat unethical when we read it in this English translation. However, the Greek word “zelos” is translated into Hebrew as “kin’ah,” which means “zealousness.” So actually, Paul’s words should really be understood as bringing Jews to zealousness. This is a mission that is a lot easier to comprehend and enact.

-Levy, pg 18

Zealousness? Zealousness about what? I can’t speak to Jordan’s comparison of the Greek and Hebrew words, but given the context, I’d have to say, zealousness toward Torah, toward Israel, and toward God. When I first heard Jordan talk about this last May, as I indicated above, I took it personally. I’m a Christian husband married to a Jewish wife, so if I’m supposed to inspire a zealousness for Torah in the Jewish people, where better to start than my Jewish family?

Easier said than done, since as you probably know, there are often more available avenues to inspiring strangers than members of your own family or even your own hometown.

And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them.

Mark 6:4-5 (ESV)

long-distance-runnerIf even Jesus found that a prophet has little honor in his own hometown, then how much more difficult will the “ordinary Christian” find it to provoke zealousness within his family?

And yet our witness to the Jewish people is not without its rewards, even if we see no appreciable fruit in this lifetime, we know we have served God as He desired and “run the race” as He has commanded. We have served and obeyed the voice of our Master.

Those who work to live in their identity yet who provide and support a Jewish space for Jews to enter and learn about and worship their Messiah, I put in the classification of “the crowning jewels of the nations.” These are people who are a blessing and are repairers of the world. Their humility makes them great heroes of faith that are an inspiration to all who know them. They are tzaddikei hagoyim (the righteous of the nations) who will be honored not only in this life, but in the life to come.

May HaShem bless and keep you as you continue to bless and work alongside your fellow laborers in rebuilding the walls of the fallen tent of David, the house of Jacob.

-Levy, pp 20-21

I know it probably seems like I just copied and pasted all of Jordan’s article into this blog post, but actually I quoted from just a small fraction of her missive. I encourage you to read everything she wrote, as well as peruse the writings of the many other fine authors and scholars who have contributed to the current issue of Messiah Journal

May you find illumination within its pages, just as I have.

Read another of my reviews of Jordan’s writing in the “meditation,” In the Name of the Lord…Yehoshua?

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13 thoughts on “Provoking Zealousness”

  1. This writing, both Jordan’s and your affirmation, is a drink of cold water in the desert at noon. I am embracing Jordan’s terminology as being “the crowning jewels of the nations;” not that it fits my personality (I’m no “crown jewel”), but our role as Gentiles working in support of tikkun olam.

  2. Thanks for chiming in, Dan. It will be interesting to see how everyone else sees this commentary on Jewish and Gentile roles in the Kingdom of Heaven.

  3. “we Gentile believers must maintain a specific and distinct identity from the believing Jews in the Messianic community in order to fulfill our unique role in performing tikkun olam. In other words, by some Gentiles mimicking Jewish identity, they are excluding themselves from the very purpose God designed them (us) to fulfill.”

    Amen, AMEN!

    I came to MJ late (just as FFOZ launched their new MJournal 101 and DI) and so I never got caught up in the Ephramite , 1 house, 2–whatever… (can’t think of what it’s called) but I was awestruck with the concept of MJ because I was thrilled to see a place for Jews to worship their Messiah in a Jewish context!

    But as I began to see the most “Jewish” expression didn’t come from Jews at all, but Gentiles pretending to be Jews. This had a very negative effect on me and I couldn’t understand why Gentiles would be so silly as to think that they didn’t matter in the economy of God.

    Thank you for posting this beautiful article and meditation, I’ve read the whole thing and it is fantastic, and you do it justice James with your thoughtful commentary.

  4. Thanks for the complement. I’m sure Jordan also appreciates the encouragement, Lw. By “I’ve read the whole thing,” it sounds like you mean you’ve had the opportunity to read her entire article in Messiah Journal, issue 112. I’m looking forward to her future contributions. She’s someone to watch in 2013 and beyond.

  5. “but the door swings both ways according to Jordan.” “However, in just this same manner, Jews cannot replace or supersede Gentiles within God’s master plan either. Jews do not possess the sole power of bringing about God’s will and kingdom; this is a joint effort that requires each distinct group to play their own distinct role.”

    Love, love, love this!

  6. I really appreciated that statement because so often, non-Jews in the Messianic and Hebrew/Jewish Roots movements tend to feel slighted because they are (seemingly) discouraged by Jews from taking on board certain of the mitzvot that typically are associated with Jewish identity. While, as I said, it’s unlikely for Jews in the movement to attempt to take over non-Jewish roles, articulating her thoughts this way shows us all that being a non-Jewish believer is not only important, it’s vital. No one else, certainly not the Jews in the movement, can perform the tasks that we non-Jewish believers have been assigned by God.

    We all really need to “get” that.

  7. As one who is in close proximity to Jews, not only your family,but being in “the movement” and Judaically aware, can you even fathom what would happen regarding “bringing Jews to jealousness” if Gentiles were to fully understand Jordan’s message and were to embrace their identity, role, and CALLING and began to support and love Jews instead of trying to BE them?

    Talk about setting a trajectory… This one would lead to “life from the dead.”

  8. I can only imagine that one effect is that many Jews would become confused. “What are these Christians doing,” they might ask. It’s not something we’re used to do and it’s not something Jews are used to see Christians do. When I try to explain all this to the missus, she just gives me a quizzical look.

  9. “so often, non-Jews in the Messianic and Hebrew/Jewish Roots movements tend to feel slighted because they are (seemingly) discouraged by Jews from taking on board certain of the mitzvot that typically are associated with Jewish identity.”

    Yes, I’ve gathered this since entering MJ and for the life of me couldn’t understand it. Being in Christianity my whole life I’ve been more than affirmed and thru relationship I’ve encountered God numerous times, too numerous to discount His love for me.

    Jews need to have the room to be Jews, which many times means learning HOW to be Jews again, since assimilation and efforts to “blend in” and “get along” with their host countries i.e., “be a Jew at home, but a man outside it” mentality lost a lot of Judaism for the subsequent generation(s).

    I’ve hated seeing messianic gentiles, who are supposed to be enlightened to issues of RT, simply add another hurdle for Jews to get over instead of supporting and loving them. However, I also realize the gentile role hasn’t been articulated well either, and for Gentiles to step into their role, they first have to know they have one!

  10. “I can only imagine that one effect is that many Jews would become confused. “What are these Christians doing,” they might ask. It’s not something we’re used to do and it’s not something Jews are used to see Christians do. When I try to explain all this to the missus, she just gives me a quizzical look.”

    I wonder how different her faith journey would have been if, instead of entering an Ephramite assembly (I think that’s what you said before, forgive me if Im mistaken) you guys would have experienced real MJ with clear boundaries and honoring of each identity. Maybe she wouldn’t have felt the need to find education and affirmation in an organization that is so opposed to the Messiah.

  11. I wonder how different her faith journey would have been if, instead of entering an Ephramite assembly (I think that’s what you said before, forgive me if Im mistaken) you guys would have experienced real MJ with clear boundaries and honoring of each identity.

    Close enough.

    There are a lot of “what ifs” I run through my brain as well, but in a created universe, there’s no such thing as true coincidence. Life happens. Actually, the path she traveled was very involved but not having been raised in a Jewish household or visited a synagogue before adulthood, she really needed to connect to a Jewish community, which she was only going to find in the more traditional sense here in Idaho. No point in me wishing otherwise. All I can do is watch what God is doing and see if I can understand what part of that I’m supposed to share.

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