When I got home last night after my meeting with my Pastor, the Shabbos candles were lit. I was pleasantly surprised. For the past week or so, my wife has been at the Chabad helping the Rebbitzen prepare for Rosh Hashanah. My wife didn’t stay for services, which somewhat disappointed me, but the fact that she lit the candles when she got home was heartwarming (and hearth warming).
Unfortunately, there’s a limit to what I can say to her about it without crossing barriers, so I have to keep my feelings to myself (don’t worry, I’m pretty sure she never reads my blog).
As I said, I visited my Pastor last night, basically to discuss Chapter Eight of D. Thomas Lancaster’s book, The Holy Epistle to the Galatians: Sermons on a Messianic Jewish Approach. We actually started on topic but managed to drift into the definition and purpose of “the Church,” the collective body of Jewish and Gentile disciples of Jesus, the Messiah. Pastor’s opinion is that the New Covenant creates an entirely new entity, the church, and that Jews who become part of that New Covenant join a new entity and leave the older covenant, Sinai, behind.
But if newer covenants cancel older ones, then what about Abraham?
What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.
–Galatians 3:17-18 (NASB)
Nope. Newer covenants do not invalidate older ones.
Pastor kept trying to make his point about the New Covenant from Ephesians 2, but we were missing what it says in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36, which is the only way to understand the Biblical “core” of the New Covenant:
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “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 31:31-34 (NASB)
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,” declares the Lord God, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land.”
–Ezekiel 36:22-24 (NASB)
I wrote a multi-part series starting here that charted the massively complicated course of the New Covenant in terms of what it does and doesn’t say about Jews and Gentiles. This is a very good example of not being able to adequately “prove” the particulars of the New Covenant using only the Apostolic Scriptures (New Testament, which by the way, does not mean the same thing as “New Covenant”).
First of all, look at the object of the New Covenant. Jeremiah 31:31 says it’s “the house of Israel and the house of Judah,” so basically, the Jewish people. But what is the New Covenant and how does it differ from the old, according to Jeremiah? Verse 33 says “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.”
I have no reason to believe that when God says “My law” that He means anything other than Torah. The difference is that instead of the Torah being externally recorded, it will be part of the internal Jewish motivation. Verse 34 says that they (the Jewish people) “will not teach again, each man and his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they all will know Me…”
Today, Jewish people, and in fact all of us, “know God” because of the Bible, an external document that gives us the details of God’s holy standards for the Jews and the Gentiles who are called by His Name. True, the Holy Spirit was given to all believers, but we still have our internal, human nature that struggles against both the Spirit and against conforming our lives to Biblical standards. “After those days,” the Messianic Era, those who are part of the New Covenant, Israel and Judah, the Jewish people, and those of us who are grafted into the root through our faith in Messiah, will have that law, as it applies to each of us, written on our hearts, so that it will be “natural” for us to be obedient to God.
What I don’t see is that the content of the law or the differing roles of believing Jews and Gentiles will change in the slightest. It doesn’t say that in the text.
To support this, Ezekiel 36 says that because of God’s great name, which has been profaned among the nations (verse 23), God will renew Israel, so that the nations (the rest of the world) will know that God is God. Verse 24 continues saying God will take the Jewish people from the nations and return them to Israel. This too is part of the New Covenant, the redemption of national Israel.
So what do we know about the New Covenant. God will write His Torah, not on a scroll or on stone tablet, but on the hearts of the Jewish people, so that they will more perfectly obey His Torah. He will also redeem the Jewish people from their long exile and return them to their Land, to Israel. This is the New Covenant.
Quite a shift from what Pastor was talking about.
I’ve already written about how Gentiles become part of the New Covenant through Abraham, so don’t worry…we’re there, too. I tried to pull it all together in a final (or almost final) blog post called Building My Model which I think you’ll find is a pretty good summary of how the whole New Covenant develops.
Ephesians 3 is part of that description, but because my Pastor mentioned Ephesians 2, I’ll include links to my own interpretation of that chapter as well as an illuminating online conversation on Ephesians 2 and why it does not describe the swan song of the Torah. In fact, I recently said that it is impossible for the Jewish people to repent and to be redeemed by God without turning back to God and obedience of His Holy will through Torah observance.
But what does this have to do with Rosh Hashanah?
During the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, religious Jews take the opportunity to hit the reset button on their lives, to take stock of the previous year and to repair any damage they may have done in their relationship with other people and with God. In the long history of enmity between Christianity and Judaism, we in the church have demanded that Jews distance themselves from the Torah (and thus from God) by burning Torah scrolls, volumes of Talmud, numerous synagogues, and sometimes Jewish people.
If the New Covenant includes and intensifies the older covenants rather than replacing them, then we Christians have some “making up” to do with the Jewish people. In our mistaken attempt to reconcile them with Christ by destroying Jewish observance, Jewish lifestyle, and Jewish people, we’ve been opposing rather than obeying God. If we Christians are serious about being part of the New Covenant, then we cannot inhibit the Jewish people from also being included. In fact, if they aren’t included, then we have no direct linkage, since Abraham is the father of all.
Last night, while I was out of the house, my wife lit the candles to commemorate the start of Rosh Hashanah. As a “good Christian husband,” what is my duty to my Jewish wife, given all I’ve just said? Part of my duty is to be delighted that the warmth and glow of the Shabbos candles once again grace the interior of our home.
L’Shana Tova Tikatevu. May you all be inscribed in the Book of Life and enjoy a wonderful new year.