The Spirit of God and the Jewish People

Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel SchneersonMy father wrote that he heard in the name of the Alter Rebbe that all rabbinic authors until and including the Taz and Shach, composed their works with ruach hakodesh, the Divine Spirit. An individual’s ruach hakodesh, as explained by Korban Ha’eida in Tractate Sh’kalim (Talmud Yerushalmi), end of ch. 3, means that the mysteries of Torah are revealed to him. This comes from the aspect of chochma in its pre-revelation state.

-from the talks and letters of the sixth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory.
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan

Moses received the Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua; Joshua to the elders; the elders to the prophets; and the prophets handed it down to the men of the Great Assembly.

Pirkei Avot 1.1

This isn’t going to resonate well with Christians who believe that God has abandoned the Jewish people. On the other hand, in reading the First Fruits of Zion book Gifts of the Spirit, I came across this:

We confuse ourselves regarding the giving of the Holy Spirit when we assume that, prior to the Shavu’ot even described in Acts 2, Jewish people did not have the Holy Spirit. That assumption also leads us to believe that non-Messianic religious Jews after that could not possibly receive inspiration from the Holy Spirit, act in any capacity of the Holy Spirit, or perform miracles by the Holy Spirit. These assumptions, I believe, are based squarely upon a misunderstanding of John 7:39 where it says, “He said this about the spirit that those who believe in him would receive, because the Holy Spirit was not given before Yeshua was glorified.”

-D. Thomas Lancaster
“Chapter 3: A Pledge of What is to Come,” pg 39
“Gifts of the Spirit”

That quote also won’t sit well with the vast majority of Christians, and I will comment more extensively on this quote and other chapters of the book next week.

But I got to thinking about the relationship between God and the Jewish people, all the Jewish people, not just those who profess a faith in Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah and Son of the Most High. Did God cut them off? Are Jews and Judaism “dead” to God and only those Jews who convert to Christianity (or alternately, enter into faith as a Messianic Jew) “alive” to God?

I say then, God has not rejected His people, has He? May it never be! For I too am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected His people whom He foreknew. Or do you not know what the Scripture says in the passage about Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel?

Romans 11:1-2 (NASB)

Paul goes on to speak of a chosen remnant within Israel selected by God’s grace, which certainly makes it seem as if only a few Jewish people will “make it” and the rest are toast.

But there’s more to the story:

But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

Romans 11:13-15 (NASB)

JudaismIt seems the “stumbling” and “partial hardening” (v 25) of the Jewish people is for the benefit of the Gentiles, and this was Paul’s warning to the Gentile believers in Rome, as I discussed in my reviews of the Mark Nanos book The Mystery of Romans, to not create additional “stumbling blocks” between the Jewish people and faith in the Messiah by the arrogance of the Gentiles in the Roman synagogues.

How can we say that God abandoned all or even most of the Jewish people if Paul never did?

I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Romans 9:1-5 (NASB)

One of the Nanos papers (PDF) discusses a translation of the Greek we read in Romans 11:25 as “partially hardened” and renders it as “callused,” indicating that what separates most Jewish people from the knowledge of Messiah is a temporary condition, one which can be healed so that “all Israel will be saved” (Romans 11:26).

If this is God’s intention for Israel, the Jewish people, the chosen nation of Hashem, then who are we, the non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah, to stand in the way for the sake of our own “self-superiority,” which is the same condition Paul was chastising the believing Gentile believers in Rome for exhibiting?

And yet, how are we to believe that the Holy Spirit continues to be with the Jewish people, even as they are “temporarily calloused” toward the identity of the Messiah, when in the Church, we believe someone receives the indwelling of the Spirit only when we come to faith in Jesus Christ?

Has the Holy Spirit of God abandoned the Jewish people or does the Spirit guide the “rabbinic authors” in composing their works? It’s difficult to imagine that one unifying Spirit is guiding all the Jewish people when the various sages across history and the different streams of Judaism today all seem to disagree with each other. But then again, examining the different denominations of the Christian Church, we see the same phenomenon: multiple streams of Christianity which are theoretically all guided by the same, unifying Spirit and yet all disagree with each other on a number of important theological and doctrinal details.

But every once in a while in Christianity and Judaism, we see evidence of the presence of the Spirit of God working in interesting and surprising ways:

A few months before he died, one of the nation’s most prominent rabbis, Yitzhak Kaduri, supposedly wrote the name of the Messiah on a small note which he requested would remain sealed until now. When the note was unsealed, it revealed what many have known for centuries: Yehoshua, or Yeshua (Jesus), is the Messiah.

With the biblical name of Jesus, the Rabbi and kabbalist described the Messiah using six words and hinting that the initial letters form the name of the Messiah.

-Aviel Schneider
“The Rabbi, the Note and the Messiah,” May 30, 2013
Reprinted from Israel Today Magazine, April 2007
israeltoday.co.il

You can click the link I provided to read the full article and also, go to YouTube to view a brief (4:48 minutes) video on Rabbi Kaduri’s revelation.

Rabbi Yitzchak KaduriThe yartzeit of Rabbi Yitzchak Kaduri was observed last December 31st (the 29th of Tevet), which is why this information has been recently re-published in magazines and social media.

I’ve been writing a great deal on whether or not the “gifts of the spirit” have ceased or continued past the closure of Christian Biblical canon. To listen to John MacArthur of Strange Fire fame and other “cessationists,” the answer is that no human being has been granted specific gifts of prophesy, speaking in tongues, having visions, or healing in nearly two-thousand years. He and his colleagues have plenty of opposition to this idea.

My reading of the “Gifts of the Spirit” book, named for a conference I attended last May, tells me that the Holy Spirit continues to be active in our world today in very observable ways, but doesn’t really emphasize particular individuals continually exercising specific “gifts” provided by the Spirit of God. After all, we aren’t the apostles, so how can we expect to operate at their level of spirituality and holiness? Maybe there are a few tzaddikim (Christianity would call them “saints”) or exceptionally righteous individuals who can apprehend such gifts, but I’d have to say they’re few and far between in our religious and historical landscape.

I consider it nothing less than miraculous that Rabbi Kaduri could come to such a startling conclusion, which certainly has sent ripples of interest and shock across the body of his disciples and across the span of religious Judaism.

There’s a great deal that I don’t know about the Spirit and how He chooses to move among those who pray to the God of Abraham, which includes Christians, Jews, and Muslims, but I believe God can do exactly as He desires to do without the consent of human beings. I choose to believe Rabbi Kaduri had a vision. I choose to believe God did not abandon the Jewish people or Judaism. There is still wonder, and awe, and amazement, in our world as God is present among His people and speaking to us in many voices. I’m glad Rabbi Kaduri chose to listen and obey. It’s a message of hope for all believers and for all Jewish people that the gospel message of Moshiach is indeed good news for the Jews, and also for the people of the nations who are called by His Name.

Why did I write all this now? I read the quote I put at the top of this blog post today and everything else fell into place.

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21 thoughts on “The Spirit of God and the Jewish People”

  1. Good morning James…………What a beautifully written Meditation! You have correctly offered hope and assurances to the Jew first and then to the gentile. G-d does work in mysterious ways but in my heart and mind there is every confidence that G-d will restore ALL of Israel His people in His timing. Be blessed today in a special way!

  2. My ‘yesterday’ wasn’t so great either! Following ‘conversation’ with a friend I received this email… I ‘struggled’ with some of the words knowing their ‘intent’…
    “There is a legalistic wind blowing among many circles within the Christian faith. That wind is the attempt by natural minded men to restore or mix the Christian faith with Old Testament Law — Let us learn and enjoy the Jewish context and background of God’s Word and revelation to man. Let us study and appreciate all the cultural expressions and timeless truths we learn from the writers of the Old Testament. Jesus, our Messiah was Jewish, fulfilled the Law perfectly, and as God’s Only Begotten Son, delivered us from the bondage of the law. We can only properly understand the fall of man, the covenants of God and the promise of a Redeemer through sound biblical hermeneutics. Understanding the Temple, the sacrifices, the Feasts of Israel and the biblical trials of the nation of Israel brings out many timeless applications from God to man. However, let us equally understand that we live under and have a New Covenant, based on better promises offered to us by grace through faith alone!

    “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Rom.10:4)

    “But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.” (Rom.11:6)

    “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” (Gal.5:4)

    I find Grace in my life every day!

  3. I remember seeing an interview on Youtube with one of Kaduri’s followers that became a believer in Yeshua, and it had English subtitles. I just finished reading last week’s parsha and completed the studies (late as usual) and I believe that the miracles of the redemption that led the mixed multitude to leave with the descendents of Israel will be repeated in greater measure in the regathering. The other enslaved peoples of Egypt probably didn’t know anything about the Holy One of Israel except they saw his power that confirmed the words of his witnesses. I do believe the ten men of the nations will also see something similar. There certainly wasn’t anything about the slaves in Goshen that would attract one to want to join them.

  4. @Pat: To quote my wife, “Oy vey!”

    @Chaya: It is my hope that the Jewish people will be able to recognize the Messiah in the face of Yeshua. It is also my hope that the people of the nations (that is, everyone else) will realize that it it Israel’s King who will rule.

  5. @Pat, I read that somewhere, but I forgot where. Please remind me to avoid arguing with these people – let them stay in Egypt, a place of limitations, restrictions and focus on death. We are told in Is. 52: Say to Zion YOUR Elohim reigns. (Not our God reigns.) See the difference.

    I believe Joel 2 is yet to be fulfilled in completeness. This is from the 17th benediction of the Amidah: And let our eyes behold Your return in mercy to Zion. Blessed are you, Oh Holy One, who restores Your divine presence (shechina) to Zion.

  6. I believe Joel 2 is yet to be fulfilled in completeness. This is from the 17th benediction of the Amidah: And let our eyes behold Your return in mercy to Zion. Blessed are you, Oh Holy One, who restores Your divine presence (shechina) to Zion.

    Agreed. We won’t see the fulfillment of this prophesy until Messiah returns.

  7. Thanks Chaya1957 and James…….I just re-read Joel 2 and feel great consolation. I know Hashem will gather his little chicks back under His wing….It will happen to the surprise of all Theologians and naysayers!

  8. I have a little problem with:

    “After all, we aren’t the apostles, so how can we expect to operate at their level of spirituality and holiness? Maybe there are a few tzaddikim (Christianity would call them “saints”) or exceptionally righteous individuals who can apprehend such gifts, but I’d have to say they’re few and far between in our religious and historical landscape.”

    I find in Acts 3:12

    “And when Peter saw it he addressed the people: “Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we have made him walk?”

    The word piety is sometimes translated holiness or godliness. From this I take that there is either the will of the Father being expressed or people have a relationship that is not necessarily of tzaddikim level. There may be other references that may expand or explain this.

    Tom

  9. And yet would God grant such abilities to “just anyone?” I mean, the people we see exercising spiritual gifts in the Bible weren’t random human beings. Each had a unique role in accordance with their character. True, they were hardly perfect human beings, but on the other hand, they weren’t the sort of people to use such gifts for their own personal gain.

  10. @James — Ahh, but here you ask a rather time-worn question: Did HaShem work with these people because they were already outstanding characters, or did they become outstanding characters because HaShem chose to work in them? I think the evidence favors the latter. No one can say to HaShem that they are insufficient and unworthy to perform the tasks demanded of them. Several notable examples in scripture have tried to offer such protests (Moshe, Jeremiah, and even Miriam come quickly to mind). It doesn’t matter that they were correct to realize they were not qualified. HaShem is glorified by taking hold of unqualified humans and working wonders through them despite their limitations.

  11. Hi James, I understand your hiatus but I have to say I miss seeing your blog in my inbox each morning. I was going to comment earlier but another back surgery sort of got in the way. Anyway, I hope the Father gives you the right pace to continue to post your comments. I’m sure He will. They are helpful to me and help me think about things concerning our faith in ways I don’t think I would without your input. I especially enjoy what you are doing with the “Gifts of the Spirit” book. I have been chewing on that material ever since we attended the conference and your thoughts are really helping me. I know you said you weren’t going to do each chapter but personally I hope you do quite a bit on the book. The conference has caused some stress about me and some people I love including in my own household. I think the constributors combined to give a pretty balanced approach to the subject, at least something that resonated with me. Others who were there didn’t quite see it the same way since they are more familiar with traditional Pentecostal ideas and practice. Anyway, I wanted to say again I look forward to your writing no matter what pace you end up doing. Blessings and shalom to you and yours.

  12. PL said: Ahh, but here you ask a rather time-worn question: Did HaShem work with these people because they were already outstanding characters, or did they become outstanding characters because HaShem chose to work in them?

    Hmmm. It appears that between you and Tom, the opinion is that ordinary people (assuming they have faith in the One God of the Bible) can receive the gifts of the spirit, which I guess assumes (within the appropriate population) anyone at any place at any time that suits God’s purposes. No special spiritual state or level of holiness required. Apply within.

    That has rather astonishing implications and I can see how the idea can be abused if one expects to be “gifted” at any moment or even thinks they “should” be gifted.

  13. @wcmotalmid said: I know you said you weren’t going to do each chapter but personally I hope you do quite a bit on the book.

    I’ve done that in the past, but if I post too much of the book’s material online, people may not feel they need to actually get a copy of the book to see what else it says.

    I think the constributors combined to give a pretty balanced approach to the subject, at least something that resonated with me. Others who were there didn’t quite see it the same way since they are more familiar with traditional Pentecostal ideas and practice.

    Now that I’d like to here more about. I thought the folks at FFOZ bend over backwards at the conference to make Pentecostals feel welcomed and accepted. Where there those who felt otherwise, Mel?

  14. I think perhaps it might be instructive if I told the story of events in which I participated more than four decades ago, which occurred in the living room of a private home where there lived a university professor, his wife and their two children. I must begin by describing the background environment in which these events occurred. A number of young men and women in their late teens and early twenties, many of them university students, visited this home frequently because it offered a very open atmosphere where one might find in progress at any given time a discussion about the existential philosophers, a bible study, a session of prayer, an impromptu lesson on cooking or gardening, or general conversation on a wide range of subjects, to name just a few examples. The place was affectionately called a “zoo” because of all the strange “critters” one might encounter coming and going at virtually all hours. It was, after all, the late 60s in the USA, and the intellectual and social environment around many universities was a rather unstructured one. In those days, modern Messianic Judaism had not yet been formulated, but the professor and his family had some connections with the Hebrew Christianity of the era, and held a very holistic view of biblical continuity, so Jews and non-Jews mingled freely in this environment though there was not much orthodoxy of any sort to be seen.

    At one point, not long after a bible study that had reviewed chapters 12 through 14 of Rav Shaul’s first letter to the Corinthians, the question arose in discussion about how one might pursue the advice of chapter 14, verse 1: “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” It was decided that the passage in James 1:5-6 might offer a clue, which says: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.” So, with all due naiveté, the group began to pray, quietly and extemporaneously, effectively including HaShem in the conversation that had been in progress, with each participant listening into their own spirit to see if there would be any insight in reply. I don’t remember the exact sequence that followed, except that one of the participants picked up a guitar that was nearby and began quietly playing a few simple chords, blending the music with the prayer conversation (which was not an unfamiliar practice in this venue). He was not known for being especially musical or particularly qualified to play any instrument, but he seemed positively inspired that afternoon (or maybe it was already early evening). I can’t say if he was supernaturally inspired, but he did report afterward that he was surprised to do so well. I think he played “Amazing Grace”, because that was a familiar tune in which practically everyone could participate — in fact, we actually managed multi-part harmonies in that session and fell to humming it quietly together after a verse or two. The atmosphere was very peaceful and filled with a sense of camaraderie. Every now and then someone would voice a sentence or two consistent with the general theme of the session which was to request wisdom from HaShem about the spiritual gifts. Now, I, along with most of the other participants had never heard anyone speak in tongues, though the professor had experienced it in a Pentacostal fellowship and used the gift in his private “prayer-closet” devotions. However, he kept quiet — particularly because he wished to see what HaShem would do without any prompting or “priming the pump”, so to speak. I can’t speak for the experience of the others in the group, but I began to find stray non-English syllables in my thoughts, and it seemed only right to me that if HaShem were giving me something of this sort to say I ought to say it, just as I would any other sentence in the ongoing sporadic conversation. This I did, and so did others — in fact I don’t think I was the first to speak — until before long the entire group was singing together with non-English words to the tune that was still in our heads from earlier (“Amazing Grace”?). I don’t recall the guitar being played the entire time, but he probably started again when we were all singing together. We didn’t seem to be singing the same words, in whatever languages they might have been, but somehow we blended together very harmoniously.

    After that, no one had any fear of speaking in tongues, though it would be sometime later that we learned to apply discernment and to insist that any “message” offered in a non-English tongue must be interpreted into English and tested with group discernment, with the understanding that if HaShem was speaking a message to the group for its guidance and edification, the essence of His message would be “heard” by more than one individual in the group in order to confirm it. The same principle was applied also to direct English words of knowledge or prophecy, as well as to the interpretation of tongues unless the language were recognized and translatable by ordinary knowledge of it. We had one case of that with a girl who spoke out in Spanish without herself having any knowledge of the language or what she said in it. It was taken down phonetically and translated by a man of Puerto-Rican extraction who had heard it but couldn’t quite make out what was said initially. It was probably a dialect problem. The girl herself was rather oblivious to the fact that she had just interacted with a demonic influence, as recognizable from the words she had spoken. I don’t recall if she ever agreed to cooperate with casting out said demon, which had identified itself with a name or a place identity or something of the sort. She was not a regular visitor, so I don’t know what ever became of her. There were other occasional incidents of supernatural or miraculous events that provided this group overall with a sense of having participated personally in a first-century style fellowship. So while this group was never connected with any official body of Pentacostalists or Charismatics, it experienced more than sufficient evidence that HaShem was still doing things similar to what we see described in the Gospels, the book of Acts, and at least Rav Shaul’s letters to the Corinthians.

    The existence of this group was short-lived, because after a few years the professor was denied tenure at his university and he accepted a job at another college quite some distance away. But those who participated in this group took away from the experience many valuable lessons. It may fairly be said that their prayer for wisdom about the supernatural spiritual gifts was well-answered.

  15. That is certainly well outside of any of my experiences, PL. I do remember a story told to me by a friend some years ago. He’s a little older than I am and said when he was a young man and a new believer, he met with a group of young people regularly for Bible study and prayer. I can’t recall the details, but in their innocence as new believers, they asked for whatever they needed in Messiah’s name and subsequently it was granted. Some of the requests were rather extravagant, and in retrospect, my friend thought that they were likely (though inadvertently) testing the Holy Spirit, but by God’s grace, knowing that these people didn’t know what they were doing, God was merciful and providential.

    Sometimes I think there’s such a thing as knowing too much and what we think gets in the way of just meeting God where we are.

  16. PL said: “At one point, not long after a bible study that had reviewed chapters 12 through 14 of Rav Shaul’s first letter to the Corinthians, the question arose in discussion about how one might pursue the advice of chapter 14, verse 1: “Pursue love, yet desire earnestly spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy.” It was decided that the passage in James 1:5-6 might offer a clue, which says: “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.” So, with all due naiveté, the group began to pray, quietly and extemporaneously, effectively including HaShem in the conversation that had been in progress, with each participant listening into their own spirit to see if there would be any insight in reply.”

    I wonder how many of us have made the opportunity, or even thought of making that opportunity to seek God in this way? And (without that seeking) make assumptions that they are already experiencing all of what is possible in a believer’s life. How many live under the assumption that if Spiritual gifts were still valid, He would give them to us, even if we hadn’t earnestly desired them? And therefore, because they haven’t personally received the gifts as a ”sovereign” act of God , assume they’re no longer available?
    James says later in his letter “you do not have because you do not ask” and Jesus indicated the need for persistence in our asking. And yet how often do we commit ourselves to asking for what we’ve been told to seek (spiritual gifts), and do so with persistence?
    I suppose we’ll never do it if we’ve already determined that they are no longer available.

  17. I wonder at times if the “veil” or “temporary calloused” condition spoken of by Paul consists of Christian domination of the last two millennia and the accompanying persecution of the Jewish people perpetrated by the Church. How can a Jewish person “see” Yeshua through such a “veil” or “callous” as has been put into place by twenty centuries of anti-Jewish theology, legislation, and oppression. I wonder how much of this “veil” consists of the erection of a metaphysical Iron Curtain built by Christianity over the centuries, a virtual spiritual ghetto wherein the misery heaped upon the Jews by said “followers of Jesus” formed the walls and barbed wire separating them from the truth of Messiah’s identity.

  18. Dan, the most literal interpretation of that section of Paul’s letter is that he was addressing the immediate situation occurring in the Jewish synagogues in Rome with the non-Jewish disciples basically “Gentilizing” (as opposed to the problem of “Judaizing” we encounter in Galatians) in that context. The “bad attitude” of those Gentiles was setting up the barriers and causing the non-believing Jews to develop even thicker “callouses” than they already possessed.

    But I can see your point that such a process continued and accelerated past Paul’s time and over the long march of centuries as you describe until here we are today, nearly two-thousand years later, with a very thick barrier separating most of the Jewish people from recognizing their King.

    And yet if Paul is right and if Nanos’ interpretation of Paul is right, then those callouses can still be softened and the wounds can be healed, and indeed, all of Israel can yet be saved by the mercy of their King and the grace of God.

  19. I just wanted to add a comment to the discussion about tzaddikim (saints) and spiritual gifts. Reading the last chapter in the “Gifts of the Spirit” book and Lancaster referenced this:

    The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.

    James 5:16

    Just sayin’.

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