Finding the Path

Jewish_men_praying2That God is a redeeming God is a testament to God’s power, but that redemptive power is strangely ambiguous, for if God’s redemptive power will be manifest only at the end of days, then the inescapable implication is that in the here and now God’s power is not fully manifest. The final verse from the prophet Zechariah (14:9), with which we conclude every formal Jewish service of worship…has a significant implication here. The context is a vivid description of “the day of the Lord,” a common prophetic characterization for the age that will mark the culmination of history as we know it. The vision is apocalyptic: the familiar structures of nature will be overturned; there will be neither sunlight nor moonlight, just one continuous day; God will wage war against the evil nations and smite them with a plague. All who survive will make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship the God of Israel. And then “the Lord will be king over all the earth; on that day there shall be one Lord with one name,” or as other translations would have it, on that day, “the Lord alone shall be worshiped and shall be invoked by His true name.”

-Rabbi Neil Gillman
“Chapter 9: God Redeems,” pg 139
The Jewish Approach to God: A Brief Introduction for Christians

I, John, your brother and fellow partaker in the tribulation and kingdom and perseverance, which are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day…

Revelation 1:9-10 (NASB)

If you’re at all familiar with the imagery presented in John’s Revelation, you’ll notice a number of similarities to my quote from Rabbi Gillman above. Of course, this imagery is also available in several sections of the Tanakh (Old Testament), so it’s not unreasonable or unanticipated that Rabbi Gillman should sound as if he’s channeling the words of the apostle. What may seem strange to some Christians is the idea that Israel is not only involved in the apocalyptic future, but that it is (they are) the conduit by which the rest of the world approaches redemptive history.

If you have been reading my blog for any length of time, this bit of news shouldn’t be completely unfamiliar. A number of my reviews of episodes of the FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come television show have touched on this history. These include the topics exile and redemption, the ingathering of Israel, the Gospel message, Jewish repentance and the Kingdom being now. If you put all of this information together, you come up with a startling picture….well, startling if you are traditionally Christian.

Most of the time, in the church, we are taught that if anyone, including Jewish people, want to be reconciled with God, they must convert to Christianity and start worshiping Jesus Christ. Almost no one is teaching that in order to be saved by God, we have to go through Israel.

What? Am I saying we all have to convert to Judaism? Not at all. But we have tended to reverse causality as Christians, believing that Israel has lost significance with God and that the Church (big “C”) has overshadowed if not replaced her in God’s covenant promises. But if you read this blog post and especially the comments section, you’ll see there’s a strong indication that the return of Messiah and the final acts of redemptive history will only occur when Israel corporately repents and returns to God and the Torah! To that end, we in the Church (big “C”, all of us) have a responsibility and a duty to encourage Jewish Torah observance and repentance.

Yom-KippurThere was nothing preventing me from observing Yom Kippur in a traditionally Jewish fashion, but I chose not to fast this year. I know some of you will think I’m terrible for abstaining from “the fast,” and others will think not a thing about it. I suppose I could have fasted in order to encourage my wife and daughter, but it’s like the reason I stopped lighting the Shabbos candles. There’s little point in the only Goy in the home acting more “Jewish” than the Jewish people in the home.

Fortunately, my wife has started lighting the candles again, so there’s hope that she is participating in the forward flow of Jewish history that will culminate in the return of the Jewish King.

I feel a little guilty anyway, but if I believe that it is Jewish Torah observance that is the key to the coming of Moshiach, then shouldn’t I draw the distinction in my family? After all, my wife always thinks it’s strange of me when I avoid a pork chop or a plate of hot, buttery shrimp (not that such food would ever be found in our home). She’d no doubt have wondered why I was fasting on Yom Kippur (and I’m encouraged because for the first time in years, she fasted on Yom Kippur).

I’m meeting with my Pastor this week for our usual Wednesday night talk. I noticed on my calendar that our 7:30 meeting will also be the candle lighting time for Erev Sukkot. I experienced momentary guilt at this, and then regret that I’d miss my wife lighting the candles again. Fortunately, I just finished building and decorating our sukkah, so it’s all ready for the festival.

I must admit, Sukkot is one of my favorite holidays. Am I being a hypocrite by not fasting on Yom Kippur but building a sukkah in my backyard? I hope not. My wife and daughter won’t be building anything very soon, so it’s one of those gender-specific activities that lands on my side of the fence. I also find that the image of the Word which became flesh and “sukkahed” among us (John 1:14) is eminently portrayed at this time of year, so building a sukkah is my way of participating in the commemoration of the first Advent.

I have to admit that as the Days of Awe draw to a close and the next Torah cycle is poised to launch, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do. Old friends in the Messianic movement have pulled away from me. Maybe I should have repented to them before Yom Kippur. Maybe I’m becoming too “Christian”. Maybe I just don’t matter in that world anymore. Who knows?

If Judaism is accelerating toward its own redemptive history, what future should I, a Goyishe Christian, anticipate? I believe the Jewish people and Israel (and especially Israel’s firstborn son, Messiah) are the doorway into redemption for the rest of the human race, but is viewing the world of faith through a Jewish lens becoming a closed door for me ? I don’t know.

God’s choosing is beyond our ability to understand. The Hebrew prophet, Amos put it this way:

To Me, O Israelites, you are
Just like the Ethiopians, declares the Lord.

True, I brought Israel up
From the land of Egypt,
But also the Philistines from Caphtor
And the Arameans from Kir.

-Amos 9:7

To equate God’s redemption of Israel from Egyptian bondage with God’s redemption of other nations — indeed, a nation such as the Philistines, one of ancient Israel’s enemies — is a striking acknowledgment that God loves all peoples equally.

-Gillman, “Chapter 8 God Reveals,” pg 119

Children of GodRabbi Gillman is observing Jewish “chosenness” from the point of view of Reform Judaism. I don’t think an Orthodox Rabbi would hold such an opinion. Nevertheless, Rabbi Gillman hits on something important, especially for Christians. God doesn’t just love Israel and He may not even bathe Israel with more love than any other nation. God may love all of humanity in exactly the same way, even as He has chosen Israel for a specific and special purpose that is separate from the nations of the world, including the people of the nations who are called by His Name (Amos 9:11).

For Jews, what precisely was the “content,” the substance, of God’s revelation to our ancestors? Torah can be defined in many ways. It can be understood as (1) the first five books of the Bible (the Chumash, or Pentateuch, both referring to “five”); (2) the entirety of Hebrew Scripture, from Genesis to 2 Chronicles; (3) all of Scripture plus the body of rabbinic interpretation that emerged in the talmudic era (from the first to the seventh centuries C.E.); or, even more broadly, (4) the ongoing interpretation of that material through our very own day. However we define it, Torah is a complex body of doctrines, history, narratives, prayers, and legal codes. It constitutes the entire body of Judaism’s distinctive religious message.

What authority does this body of teaching have for us? Are we to accept the entire body of tradition as absolutely binding on all Jews for eternity? How free are we to depart from it, and how do we decide? The different answers to these questions account for the denominational structures that characterize the Jewish community today, from right-wing Orthodoxy to left-wing Reform and everything in between.

-Gillman, pg 120

If we are all loved and we are all invited by God to participate in His redemption through the history and future of Israel, what then is the Torah to the faithful among the nations? Of course, being loved identically and even having identical access to salvation through faith and grace does not make Jews and Christians functionally identical in terms of all the covenants. As we see from the above-quoted statement, even among collective Judaism, how Jewish authority, teaching, and obedience to God is understood is highly variable. How much more variable should it be when Gentiles are thrown into the mix by our faith in Jesus through a single condition in the Abrahamic covenant?

In addition, Israel’s “daughter religions” inherited the notion of redemptive history, which led them to believe that God’s choice had passed to another, different community. The first Christians understood that God’s revelation in and through Jesus of Nazareth superseded the Sinai covenant with “the old Israel.” (In this post-Holocaust age, however, many Christians have come to question the accuracy of this reading of Christian Scripture and to abandon it.) Islam claimed that God’s revelation to Mohammed in the Arabian desert in the seventh century C.E. constituted the seal of prophecy, God’s final revelation.

-Gillman, pg 118

path-to-godChristianity tends to believe it is the “lead dog” in the pack, so to speak, so being referred to as a “daughter religion” may be a little disconcerting. However, invoking the perspective of Messianic Judaism, at least as I understand the movement, it’s certainly an appropriate term, as it fixes us in place in terms of sequence, not only regarding where we’re coming from, but in some sense, where we have to return to in order to fulfill prophesy and take our place as the crown jewels of the nations.

Even had he remained a tzaddik, the descent would still have been worthwhile; all the more so now that he has sinned.

He was meant to have confined himself to the permissible; he would have enlightened that portion of the world, healed it and carried it upward. He was meant to remain there, for if he would break out, intending to return, who knows that he could ever succeed in his gambit?

But now that he has fallen, let him return, and in doing so he will transform to light that which the tzaddik could never have touched.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Even Better”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

I know Rabbi Freeman never intended this, but I cannot help but be somewhat reminded of Messiah, of Yeshua (Jesus), the tzaddik who had fallen but who rose and who will return greater than ever. I’m also reminded that it is not me and it’s not Christianity or even Judaism that means anything to the future and to God. It’s the human desire to encounter God through the doorway of a broken and bleeding heart and spirit. From that encounter, we may not learn everything, but we learn where we are on the path He has placed before each of us.

I will educate you and enlighten you in which path to go…many are the agonies of the wicked, but as for one who trusts in Hashem, kindness surrounds him.

Psalm 32:8, 10 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Whatever I end up doing in the coming year must conform to the path that God has designated for me, not the one being walked by anyone else.

6 thoughts on “Finding the Path”

  1. It is appropriate, not only that you have built the family sukkah, but also that you should participate in its celebration, as an anticipation of the prophetic fulfillment in the Messianic Era when the nations will come up to Jerusalem to celebrate this feast (or suffer drought), as described by Zacharyah. Indeed, Jewish tradition perceives reflections of a sort of Yom Kippur repentance and redemption for the non-Jewish nations in the Sukkot celebration.

  2. It never occurred to me to link repentance and atonement for the nations on Yom Kippur to our future obligation to attend the festival of Sukkot in the Messianic Era, but I can see how that works together. Naturally, the nations who had gone against Israel would have to repent prior to Sukkot.

    Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths. And it will be that whichever of the families of the earth does not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. If the family of Egypt does not go up or enter, then no rain will fall on them; it will be the plague with which the Lord smites the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths. This will be the [h]punishment of Egypt, and the [i]punishment of all the nations who do not go up to celebrate the Feast of Booths.

    Zechariah 14:16-19 (NASB)

    In anticipation of the Messianic Era, non-Jewish believers could (and perhaps should) observe both Yom Kippur and Sukkot now.

    1. You seem to have inferred something beyond what I was trying to say, James. Yom HaKippurim is for the atonement of the general community of Israel (as distinct from atonement for individual Jewish sins). But elements of Sukkot itself are viewed as reflecting repentance and atonement for the 70 nations of the non-Jewish world. These include the water ceremony of Hosha-na Rabba that represents cleansing for the nations as well as a thanksgiving for rain, which is also the point of connection with the blessing of rain upon the nations that do celebrate Sukkot.

  3. I’m glad you built the sukkah, James, not only for your family, but for the fact that Yeshua was born then, as we can trace in the Brit Chadashah, and also because Sukkot is the Chag which benefits the nations through the 70 bulls offered up through the days of the feast. I think that we Gentiles are supposed to make the Jews jealous while steering clear of those “who call themselves Jews, but are not.” That may put us on a tightrope, but that’s our burden in bringing about the culmination, just as Messianic Jews risk being rejected by not only “mainline” Christians, but by their own families. I pray you walk that tightrope with care, as should we all!

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