The Jewish Gospel, Part 1

620_moses-in-matthewLast night, the new MJTI Interfaith Center in Beverly Hills hosted a seminar on the Gospels with special guest, Boaz Michael, the founder and director of First Fruits of Zion.

The two-hour seminar introduced many of the typologies throughout Matthew to Yeshua’s “Moses-like” fulfillment. The Gospels are composed in a thoroughly Jewish manner and need to be understood within that context to fully see what and why things take place and are said. The Moses in Matthew seminars are currently being offered at various locations and if you have the opportunity to attend one of these seminars, definitely do it! I found myself not only intellectually engaged and enlightened, but spiritually encouraged by this discussion.

-Rabbi Joshua Brumbach
“Moses in Matthew”
Yinon Blog

I acquired an audio CD of this presentation from First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) through the FFOZ Friends program and have been meaning to review it for awhile now. It’s hard for me to sit still and listen to a recorded audio lecture, but I took my wife’s portable CD player outside and, as I weeded in the back yard, allowed my mind to be illuminated by Boaz Michael’s teaching while my body took care of the home that God has graciously provided. I learned a few things. I’d like to pass them along to you (and I apologize if I got anything in Boaz’s presentation not quite right…it’s tough to take notes while weeding).

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.

Deuteronomy 18:15 (NRSV)

According to Boaz’s teaching, the Gospel of Matthew was written specifically for a Jewish audience and was probably the only one of the Gospels originally written in Hebrew (although the Hebrew original is lost to us). The words of Moses quoted above foretell of a prophet greater than Moses who would one day rise up from among Israel. This prophet would be Messiah and he would also be a King and do many great signs and wonders. Messiah would be known by the prophesies he would tell and he would lead Israel back to faithfulness in the Torah.

In Matthew and the other synoptic gospels, it was asked if Yeshua (Jesus) was the prophet, but in John’s gospel, it was declared that he was (and is) the prophet.

Boaz tied his teaching to the release of the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels (this was a few years back) and he described at length the history of Franz Delitzsch and his mission to “retro-translate” the Greek language of the Gospels back into Hebrew. This doesn’t restore the “Hebrew text” but it does provide the “original voice,” the Hebrew voice of the gospels and the gospel writers.

That’s an important point to get because the focus of Boaz’s “Moses in Matthew” teaching is to be able to read Matthew the way a Jewish person would have read it during the early days of the Jewish religious movement “the Way.”

Boaz said something I consider very important (paraphrasing): “Every translation is really a commentary.” I know my own Pastor has said that we need to be able to understand the Bible in its original languages and within its own context in order to gain an objective understanding of what God is trying to say. My counter argument is that any translation imposes a certain set of assumptions being made by the translator so that interpretation doesn’t begin after translation but during translation. It’s at this point when we also start making connections from one text in the Bible to another and deciding what those connections mean.

And there shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a twig shall grow forth out of his roots. And the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. And his delight shall be in the fear of the Lord; and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither decide after the hearing of his ears.

Isaiah 11:1-3 (JPS Tanakh)

The people of Nineveh will stand in judgment of this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the call of Yonah. But look! One greater than Yonah is here. The queen of Teiman will stand in judgment of this generation and condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Shlomoh. But look! One greater than Shlomoh is here.

Matthew 12:41-42 (DHE Gospels)

shlomo-hamelechThese verses tell a Jewish audience (and hopefully the rest of us) something about the Messiah. The prophet Isaiah tells us that the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon the Messiah, Son of David, and he shall be wise and understanding and knowledgeable, more so than Solomon. The idea is that Messiah isn’t just like Moses the Prophet, David the King, and Solomon the Wise, but he is greater than all of those. The Hebrew word translated as “delight” from the passage in Isaiah actually is better translated as “sense,” giving the idea of sense of smell, so it is like Messiah can sense, almost “smell out” the truth.

While a general audience can “get” the meaning of all this, it would, according to Boaz, have been quite a bit more obvious to a Jewish audience in the days of Matthew and in fact, it was Matthew’s intent to write in a manner that would demonstrate Messiah to them in a uniquely Jewish way. The gospels, and especially Matthew’s, are considered the greatest Jewish story ever told, if we just know how to properly read it.

Here’s another Jewish story:

During the fourth watch, Yeshua came to them, walking on the surface of the water. His disciples saw him walking on the surface of the sea and were terrified. They said, “It is the appearance of a spirit!” and they cried out in fright. Yeshua called to them, “Be strong, for it is I. Do not fear!”

Matthew 14:25-27 (DHE Gospels)

The full text of this event is in Matthew 14:22-33. You probably think you know everything there is to know about this story, including Peter’s brief ability to also walk as long as he kept his eyes on the Master.

But to an ancient Jewish audience, it says so much more.

When God began to create heaven and earth — the earth being unformed and void, with darkness over the surface of the deep and a wind from God sweeping over the water…

Genesis 1:1-2 (JPS Tanakh)

The Hebrew word translated as “wind” can also be translated as “spirit,” thus we understand that it was the spirit from God that was hovering over the water.

This is the part where you have to “think Jewishly” and moreover, to have access to popular Jewish writings and teachings that are now collected in a large number of written works but at the time Matthew was writing his gospel, were more likely conveyed through oral tradition in less refined forms.

Boaz states in his presentation that according to Midrash Rabbah, it was the spirit of Moshiach (Messiah) that hovered over the waters. We know (and Matthew’s Jewish audience would have known) that from Isaiah 11:1-3 the spirit from God rested upon Moshiach. We know from Matthew 3:16-17 that the spirit came from God “like a dove” and rested on Jesus.

According to midrash, whose spirit hovered over the water? The Spirit of Moshiach. Putting all this together, the Messiah “hovering” or “walking” over the water would have summoned an immediate connection between that event and Moshiach’s Spirit hovering over the waters at creation.

This is also an indication that Messiah is greater than Moses. Moses’s name indicates one who was saved or drawn from water. We also know of Moses, through the power of God, splitting the Reed Sea (yes, that’s “Reed Sea.” “Red Sea” is a poor translation) and walking at the bottom of the sea with the water over him. Yeshua is greater because he is over the water as was his spirit at creation.

Your way was through the sea, your path, through the mighty waters; yet your footprints were unseen.

Psalm 77:19 (NRSV)

walking_on_waterThis verse seems to reference Moses but it is also Messianic because footprints are “unseen” when someone is walking on top of water. Also water, in ancient Jewish thought, represents chaos. In the story of creation, God “binds” and limits the great waters with shores. Yeshua is above the chaos and Matthew telling this story as he does, is declaring to his Jewish audience that Jesus is the Messiah from creation. For the rest of us, his message is that the good news of Moshiach is “first to the Jews.” It is the story of Jewish good news.

But the way Boaz teaches this lesson teaches us something about Biblical sufficiency. The idea of sufficiency is that the Bible is all that we need to understand the Bible. That’s not exactly true. While the plain meaning of the text does teach us something about Jesus and who we are as Christians, an understanding of early Jewish thought, writings, and midrash, shows us that the text contains a deeper meaning, one that would elude us if we ignored the extra-Biblical understanding of how an early Jewish audience would have comprehended these verses and associated them with other parts of the Bible. Sola scriptura isn’t quite the beginning and end of how we can understand the Word of God.

There’s another message here according to Boaz. In his presentation, he was addressing a traditionally Christian audience, one who was just becoming involved in FFOZ’s HaYesod program. Historically in the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements (and I can attest to this personally), there’s been a tendency for Gentile believers to become enamored with the Torah to the exclusion of the rest of the Bible. It has tended to “defocus” Gentile believers involved in either of these movements from the Gospels and from the Messiah. Just as the Gospels don’t replace Moses and the Torah, Moses and the Torah don’t replace Jesus and the Gospels. The Gospels require the Torah to illustrate and validate the message of Messiah but always remember, the Messiah is the Prophet, the one who is greater than Moses.

But there’s more in Matthew that teaches us about Messiah:

They remained there until the death of Hordos, fulfilling the word of HaShem through the prophet, sayings, “Out of Mitzrayim I called my son.”

Matthew 2:15 (DHE Gospels)

This is a direct reference to the following:

When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.

Hosea 11:1 (JPS Tanakh)

Modern Jewish commentators cry “foul” at Matthew’s application because Hosea is clearly referring to Israel the nation as God’s son, not the Messiah. But the heart of Jewish interpretation and application is taking scripture and applying it differently to other circumstances. This also does something special that I completely agree with. Matthew is creating a one-to-one equivalency between Israel and Messiah. Messiah is not only the Son of God, but the living embodiment of the nation of Israel; the Jewish people. Moshiach is Israel’s first-born son.

Yeshua spoke all these things in parables to the crowd of people, and other than parables, he did not speak to them at all, fulfilling what the prophet spoke, saying, “I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter riddles from ancient times.”

Matthew 13:34-35 (DHE Gospels)

This compares to the following:

I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old.

Psalm 78:2 (NRSV)

But here we learn something else. Typically, a Christian will understand that Matthew 13:34-35 is relating back to Psalm 78:2. In a Bible study on the verses from Matthew, a Christian teacher would probably include a reference specifically to Psalm 78:2 rather than the entire content of that Psalm. But from a Jewish writer’s point of view, he intends for his audience to read or hear that portion cited from Matthew and to recall all of the Psalm.

bet_midrash_temaniPsalm 78 as a whole, describes the repeating cycle of Jewish faithfulness and unfaithfulness, faithfulness and unfaithfulness to God. Matthew wants his audience to “get” this point and associate it with Yeshua as Messiah and that Messiah has come to restore Israel’s faithfulness to God.

Again, if we just isolate and link Matthew 13:34-35 and Psalm 78:2, we miss the larger message Matthew is transmitting to his Jewish readership. We may call the Bible “sufficient” and it is, but it can be more “complete” only when we reinsert the Jewishness of its overall context and include both Jewish perspective and Jewish midrashic thought into our understanding.

I’m going to split this teaching into two posts for the sake of length. There are other important parts to what Boaz Michael spoke that I don’t want to miss or gloss over. Part 2 will be in tomorrow’s “morning meditation.”

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