“And they believed in G-d and in Moses His servant”
What was the nature of Israel’s relationship to Moses? Moses, after all, is a human being. And yet, the Torah uses the very same word to connote Israel’s belief in him and in the Almighty (“they believed in G-d and in Moses”). Indeed, the Midrash derives from this that “One who believes in Moses, believes in the Almighty; one who does not believe in Moses, does not believe in the Almighty(!)”
-from a commentary on Chapter 1: Ethics of Our Fathers
“Minding the Child: The Soul of a Metaphor”
Sivan 7, 5774 – June 5, 2014
Lately, I’ve been exploring the Divine nature of the Messiah, first in response to my reading of D. Thomas Lancaster’s book Elementary Principles: Six Foundational Principles of Ancient Jewish Christianity, then as a review of Lancaster’s sermon Faith Toward God, and finally in describing my experience reading Derek Leman’s new eBook Divine Messiah. I thought I was done with the topic, at least for a while, but then I read the above-quoted commentary on chapter one of Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers).
The relationship drawn between God and Moses reminded me of how we disciples of the Master understand the relationship between God and Yeshua (Jesus), although the description of the connection between God and Messiah seems only to be elucidated within John’s Gospel, the most mystic of the apostolic renditions of the good news:
Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
–John 10:25-30 (NASB)
Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me.
–John 14:1 (NASB)
Of course, Jews don’t believe that Moses was Divine and they do not believe in him in the same manner as they do God, but there’s still a parallel of sorts. If, in Chasidic Judaism, one who believes in Moses believes in Hashem, but one who does not believe in Moses does not believe in Hashem, how much more can we say in Messianic faith about one who believes in Yeshua and conversely, one who does not?
I’ve tried to explain in my prior blog posts, leveraging Lancaster’s writing and sermons, that faith in Yeshua as Messiah, and Messiah having a Divine nature is the next logical, progressive step in a Jewish person’s faith in Hashem, for Messiah in his first coming brought substantial proof that Hashem is going to and is in the process of delivering on the prophetic New Covenant promises. Since this evidence delivered by Yeshua comes from Hashem, the one who sent him, then to deny Yeshua is to deny Hashem’s shaliach (sent one) and the evidentiary gift from God.
I know there’s a powerful motivation for most Jewish people to not accept Yeshua as Messiah, and the Christian Church is mainly at fault, at least historically. Jewish fidelity to Moses has been one of the hallmarks of Jewish faith in God, ethical monotheism, and the primary barrier against idolatry and assimilation, but Yeshua commented on Moses as well.
For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?”
–John 5:46-47 (NASB)
I know I’m going to be accused of misappropriating Jewish writings and wisdom, but the commentary on Pirkei Avot from which I’m referencing has more to say that is relevant to Yeshua disciples:
The Talmud goes even further, applying the same to the sages and Torah authorities of all generations. On the verse, “To love the L-rd your G-d and to cleave to Him,” it states: “Is it then possible to cleave to the Divine…? But whoever attaches himself to a Torah scholar, the Torah considers it as if he had attached himself to G-d….”
I want to stress that the authors of this commentary certainly do not intend to draw allusions to Yeshua in their writings, and I freely admit that I’m projecting my interpretation and my perspective into these words, but I really do think they are consistent with a Judaic viewpoint that we can “retrofit” back into the life of the “Maggid from Nazareth”.
He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us and not to the world?” Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him.
–John 14:21-23 (NASB)
Just how do you cleave to God? Attach yourself to a Torah scholar? The implication is that, of course, cleaving to the Almighty in His infinite, all-encompassing form (if “form” is a proper way to refer to Hashem) is impossible. How can the infinitesimally small connect with the infinite? It can’t. Religious Jews connect to God through Torah study, that is, through Moses and his teachings (in some cases by “cleaving” to a Torah scholar). Christians connect to God through His Son and through the study of his teachings. I really don’t think the two are so far apart, especially since Yeshua said that Moses actually wrote about him.
Moses did indeed write about Yeshua (Jesus) and not just in the verses “there is a prophet coming after me,” etc. (Deut. 18:15-19, similarly Ex. 23:20-22) Moses’ writings about him were not obscure or minimal. In fact, his writings are absolutely clear as to the identity of Messiah. His name is plainly written there for us when Moses changed Hosea’s name to “Joshua” – and this is just one small example among many. We must come to the Torah with a rabbinic understanding, as the sages did before us, in order to gain a fuller understanding of all the implications of the statement, “Mosheh wrote about me.” (John 1:46 )
The most significant example is found in the Torah portion Shelach-Lecha, (Numbers 13:1-15:41) where, although this is often an overlooked fact, Moses changed Joshua’s name (Numbers 13:16); he was not born as Joshua – but as Hosea. We have no evidence of this name existing prior to Moses’ attendant, and we can therefore assume that Moses created it. The change involved an addition of only one letter in Hebrew, the yod, therefore his name changed from (the original text of the article compares the two names in Hebrew, illustrating that only a yod is added to the changed name). Although Hoshea (Hosea) and Yehoshua (Joshua) sound like completely different names, the consonants stay the same and only the vowels change. This is crucial, for the name Hoshea means “he saves,” but Yehoshua means “HaShem saves.” Already God is shifting the focus to himself, eliminating any possible expectancy of erroneous interpretation that man alone would have the power to fully save and redeem Israel.
I lifted that quote from a blog post called In the Name of the Lord…Yehoshua?, which I created over eighteen months ago and wrote as a review of Jordan Levy’s description of how Moses actually could have written about Messiah by name.
Yeah, I bet you didn’t see that one coming.
The compelling nature and character of Yeshua as Messiah begins to come together in interesting ways if you just know where to look.
I receive these commentaries on Pirkei Avot from Chabad.org each week by email, but they are typically not available on the web. After a quick Google search however, I managed to locate a copy of this one at readnewsletter.blogspot.com. Click the link if you want to review the full content.
I’m hesitant to quote from large sections of the commentary, but from my point of view, it continues to speak to me of the nature of God and His relationship with Messiah and with Israel.
A portion of the commentary called “The Awareness Factor” speaks of how the Jewish people can consider God their “Father” from a Chasidic understanding, how the son is a “limb” of the (human) father but at the same time an independent entity. The son is wholly separate, but also contains all the father is. How like the relationship, not just between God and Israel, but between God and the Son of God.
The “Body of Israel” part of the write-up continues the “limb of the father” metaphor, stating that any one element is part of the whole, such a single Jew making up all of the Jewish people and in some manner, encompassing all that there is to being Jewish. This relates to Israel being the firstborn son of God, but in my estimation, Yeshua the Messiah is the living embodiment of all of Israel and is also the firstborn son of Hashem, both fully Divine through the Father and also inexorably and fully Israel through his mother (and arguably through the male DNA that would have been required to physically form Yeshua in Miriam’s [Mary’s] womb, but that’s another story).
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 31:34 (NASB)
This is one of the strongest supporting statements in the Bible that the good news, the Gospel message of Messiah, really is Good News for Israel, for God says of all Israel: “I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
This isn’t an isolated or trivial promise of God:
For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,
“The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
“This is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins.”
–Romans 11:25-27 (NASB)
All Israel has a share in the World to Come, as is stated: “And your people are all righteous; they shall inherit the land forever. They are the shoot of My planting, the work of My hands, in which I take pride.”
I know that normative Christianity is more comfortable interpreting this part of Paul’s letter to the Romans as meaning a righteous remnant of Israel, those who “converted to Christianity” will be saved, but it’s tough to get around the connection back to the New Covenant language that Paul was obviously referencing, as well as how this prophetic promise of God, part of the evidence Yeshua brought by his ability to forgive sins in Israel, was carried into the Pirkei Avot and the faith of all observant religious Jews over the past nearly two-thousand years since the destruction of Herod’s Temple.
Someone recently asked me about the implications for the Jewish majority who denies Yeshua and how (or if) God will also save them. I don’t know the answer to that one, but I am having an increasing faith that God will do it; will save all Israel for He said He will do it, first through Jeremiah and then through Paul (and through many other prophets as well).
What else can I say except that the ancient Jesus-believing Jews saw no inconsistency between their identity as Jews and their faith in Yeshua. Nor did they see any sort of disconnect between Moses (and the Torah) and Yeshua, for Moses wrote of Yeshua and Abraham looked forward to his day and rejoiced (John 8:56).
If allowed to progress into the future from apostolic days unmolested, it’s likely that one of the valid streams of normative Judaism today would be Messianic Judaism, which along with other Jewish streams, would have progressed forward in time as an unbroken line of faith and tradition from the first to the twenty-first century CE.
But a Gentile majority in the second century and later pulled a major coup and decoupled believing Jews from Gentiles, creating, for a time, two separate bodies of Jesus-believers, the Messianic Jewish ekklesia and the new religion of Gentile Christianity, that is, “the Church”. In my opinion, the “birthday of the Church” didn’t occur until the Gentile believers revolted against their Jewish mentors and teachers, and the tragic result is that over the next few decades to next few centuries, Jewish belief, worship, and faith in Yeshua as Messiah dwindled and finally died.
Slowly, like the Master himself, Jewish devotion to Yeshua has been resurrected, perhaps the partial fulfilling of another promise that will be completely accomplished in the New Covenant era, when all the Jews will turn to Moshiach, Son of David. I suppose I’ll draw a lot of criticism for what I’m saying, but it’s the only way I can make sense of the Biblical record and see the overarching plan of God stretch across eternity, start to finish, Genesis to Revelation, without “jumping the tracks”.
To believe in Messiah is to believe in God. Abraham looked forward to Messiah’s day. Moses wrote of Messiah. Paul believed that Messiah initiated the New Covenant era and brought a down-payment guaranteeing that God was going to fulfill all His promises to Israel in the end. Some have faith but no evidence, but we have faith with evidence, that the poor and tortured Rabbi and Prophet from Nazareth will return as King bringing salvation, mercy, and justice on clouds of glory and power.
Sing and be glad, O daughter of Zion, for behold! — I come and I will dwell among you — the words of Hashem. Many nations will attach themselves to Hashem on that day, and they shall become a people unto Me, but I will dwell among you — then you will realize that Hashem, Master of Legions, has sent me to you. Hashem shall take Judah as a heritage to Himself for His portion upon the Holy Land, and He shall choose Jerusalem again. Be silent, all flesh, before Hashem, for He is aroused from His holy habitation!
–Zechariah 2:14-17 (Stone Edition Tanakh)
Addendum: Relative to Jewish attitudes about Jesus and Christianity, I recommend you read an article published on the Rosh Pina Project blog called, Jesus is not Idolatry for Gentiles According to Some 16th Century Rabbis. It actually adds nothing to Messianic Judaism as such but states that it isn’t always the Jewish perspective that Gentile devotion to Jesus must be considered idol worship. I also encourage you to read the various comments below the blog post as the dialog better illuminates the issues involved that are part of the struggle in Jewish apprehension of Jesus as Messiah.