shabbat queen

The Servant Prepares for the Sabbath

In 1922 the highly respected Jewish scholar Joseph Klausner claimed that any sound methodology critically examining the historical Jesus must meet at least two requirements. First, critical research must place Jesus believably among the Jewish people in first-century Israel. Second, the historical analysis should explain how the church and the synagogue parted ways, resulting in the formation of the new Christian religion. In 1985 Sanders upheld the validity of these foundational principles in his widely acclaimed book, Jesus and Judaism. Since one-third of the recorded sayings of Jesus appear in parables, these Gospel illustrations have the potential to solve a number of mysteries surrounding the nascent faith. Who is Jesus of Nazareth and how did Christianity originate? How has the presence of Jewish traditions in the parables of Jesus influenced Christianity?

-Brad H. Young
Epilogue: Jesus, the Parables, and the Jewish People, pg 297
The Parables: Jewish Tradition and Christian Interpretation

I sometimes (often) think that last question should read, “Do the presence of Jewish traditions in the parables of Jesus influence Christianity at all?” Even in the church I currently attend which is “Jewish-friendly” and “pro-Israel,” I’d have to say, “not very much.” Here’s what I mean:

He thereupon says to them, “Permit me to go repent!” And they answer him and say, “You fool! Do you know that this world is like the Sabbath and the world whence you have come is like the eve of the Sabbath? If a man does not prepare his meal on the eve of the Sabbath, what shall he eat on the Sabbath?”

-from Ruth Rabbah 3:3
quoted by Young in
Chapter 15: Death and Eschatology: The Theology of Imminence, pp 281-2

In this rabbinic parable, two wicked men have associated together in doing evil in this world for many years. Before they die, one repents and the other does not. The man who did not repent sees his friend who did repent standing among the righteous while he stands among the wicked. He “reasons” that a wicked man can repent and appeals to the company of the righteous but is rejected, for he failed to repent while still alive.

This compares well to Jesus’ parable of the Wise and Foolish Maidens (Matthew 25:1-13) as well as to the following:

“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Luke 16:19-31 (NASB)

the-teacher2This illustrates that the parables of the Master compared favorably with other rabbinic parables. His audience would have known well what he was communicating since what Jesus taught was similar to the topics and methods employed by other teachers in late second-temple period Israel (and remember what I’ve said before about repentance and eternal judgment).

But what you may have missed earlier is the comparison of the current life to the eve of Shabbat and the life of the world to come to the Shabbat.

Particularly in Orthodox Judaism, Friday afternoon can be a rush to get everything ready before Shabbat arrives at sundown. All the meals that will be consumed during Shabbat must be prepared ahead of time, the Shabbat table must be set, special clothes should be laundered and ready to wear, everything that must be purchased and organized before the Shabbat has to be taken care of, all with an eye on the lowering Sun and the purpose for all the labor…the Shabbat rest and the drawing near to God.

This is a pattern that happens every week. For one-seventh (and a little more) of the week, observant Jews experience a foretaste of the world to come, of the Messianic Era of peace and tranquility when the problems of the world and regular life are set aside and a greater apprehension of God through the Torah study, prayer, and worship becomes available.

But day-to-day life is just like the afternoon prior to Shabbat. We have our work, our labors, our worries, our concerns. What we are working for makes a difference. If we are working just to accumulate wealth and the illusion of material security, when the “Sabbath” comes, when we die, when we are judged, we finally realize that all of our work has been wasted.

If, on the other hand, we are working to authentically prepare for “Shabbat,” that is, to prepare our lives and our souls for an encounter with God in a life beyond this one, after the resurrection, in the face of Divine judgment, then our work is not in vain and will be rewarded. We will have prepared our home in the Kingdom.

But if you’re a Christian who has no true understanding of a Jewish Sabbath, all of this will be missed in reading the parables of Jesus. What a pity.

But there’s more we’re missing:

It is like a consort who had a Cushite maidservant. The consort’s husband went off to a foreign province. All night the maidservant said to the consort: I am more beautiful than you. The king loves me more than he loves you. The consort replied: Let morning come,and we will know who is more beautiful and whom the king loves.

Similarly, the nations of the world say to Israel: Our deeds are more beautiful, and we are the ones whom the Holy One, blessed be He, desires. Therefore Israel says: Let morning come, and we will know whom the Holy One, blessed be He, desires — as it is said, “The watchman replied, Morning comes” (Isa. 21:12): Let the world to come, which is called morning, arrive, “and you shall come to see the difference between the righteous and the wicked” (Mal. 3:18).

-See Midrash Tanchuma, ed. Buber (Num. Rab. 16:23); trans. Stern, Parables in Midrash, 116
quoted by Young, pg 286

Roger Waters
Roger Waters

This parable can be applied in a number of ways, not the least of which is how arrogantly western nations, the mainstream news media, and the sadly deluded BDS crowd believe they are so much more “righteous” than “apartheid” Israel. However, at least historically, this parable also tells us a tale about the Church and how Christianity has viewed itself in comparison with Judaism and the Jewish people. Classic supersessionism is illustrated in the above-quoted parable, with the Church believing itself more beautiful than Israel and more loved than Judaism, as if the maidservant would ever be able to replace the consort in the heart of the King.

Imagine this to be the result of the arrogance of such a belief:

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’

Matthew 7:21-23 (NASB)

I’ve previously applied this parable to those disciples of Jesus who failed to count the cost of following him and thus failed to commit the effort required to serve the great King of Israel. However, as part of being the King’s slave, we must be prepared to serve what he deems as his first love, Israel. If we place ourselves as Gentile servants higher than the Jewish nation, are we not committing lawlessness? For after all, even the Master said “Salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22) [to the nations], not the other way around.

And He began speaking a parable to the invited guests when He noticed how they had been picking out the places of honor at the table, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 14:7-11 (NASB)

hagar_and_sarahThere are still many Christians who believe because they “have Christ,” they are inherently better than Jewish people, sometimes even those Jews who are considered “Messianic”. If you believe God replaced Israel with the Church, then you believe you deserve the bridegroom’s place at the head of the banquet table. And you believe you, the maidservant, are more beautiful and better loved by the King than the consort.

And you are wrong.

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?

Romans 11:17-24 (NASB)

See how all this fits together? How can we believe anything else except what Jesus taught and what Paul wrote about?

But some of you reading this may think that I’m saying Christian faith is meaningless because we are not Jewish, we are not Israel. I’m saying nothing of the kind. I just don’t want you to “reverse causality.” It is through the covenant promises God made to Israel that the people of the nations even have a shot at repentance, redemption, and salvation, through faith in King Messiah, the King who is in a far off land but who will soon return.

Let the morning come and show who the King loves, but let us put our hearts and lives in order, as if we were preparing our homes for the coming Shabbat. Then we will be ready when the bridegroom arrives.

In many ways, the Gospel parables belong to the rich cultural heritage and folklore traditions of the Jewish people. No one will grasp the meaning of Jesus’ parables without an extensive knowledge of ancient Judaism. Christian interpretations have tended to sever the parables from their cultural roots and apply them to new situations. In the destiny of humankind, the transcendence of the colorful illustrations goes beyond a single interpretation at one time and place in history.

-Young, pg 298

I sometimes encounter words and phrases such as Sola Scriptura, “let scripture interpret scripture,” and “Biblical sufficiency” as indicators that we only need a Christian reader and a Bible to fully and completely derive all of the meaning of the teachings of Jesus. I hope that I (and Young) have been successful in bringing into question the validity of such a simple equation.

We want the Bible to be easy to understand because otherwise, it would take a lot of time and effort to even begin to comprehend the parables in a similar manner to the original first-century Jewish audience. We want to think that when Jesus was speaking, he was speaking to us…to 21st century American Christians.

He wasn’t. Not even close.

jewish-davening-by-waterNo, I’m not saying that his teachings don’t apply to our lives today, but in order to see just how they apply, we must attempt to grasp how they were understood and applied to Jewish lives nearly twenty centuries ago in a land, culture, and linguistic context far removed from our own.

I can only say that the more I study, the more I’m convinced that in order to understand Jesus, you have to understand the Judaism in which he lived and taught. You have to study ancient and arguably modern Judaism. It is said that a disciple is a student who learns from doing, from imitating his or her Master. We are disciples and we are slaves. Our Master is a great teacher and a King. Learning through imitation isn’t a matter if cheap pantomime or cosplay where we play “dress up” and attempt to superficially mimic our Master, it’s drawing near to his every wish, desire, and command in order to deeply comprehend his meaning and intent in all things. Only then can we apply this to our lives and behave in obedience in every aspect of our daily existence.

Only then will we be worthy of his praise when he says to us, “Well done, good and faithful slave” (Matthew 25:21). Only then will we be properly prepared for the Sabbath. Let the morning come.

14 thoughts on “The Servant Prepares for the Sabbath”

  1. In Leviticus 23:4 we read :

    “These are the feasts of the Lord, even holy convocations, which ye shall proclaim in their seasons.” King James Version (KJV)

    According to Strong’s dictionary, the word “convocations” is a translation of
    From H7121; something called out, that is, a public meeting (the act, the persons, or the place); also a rehearsal: – assembly, calling, convocation, reading.


    So we should rehearse in this world in order to prepare us for the next… We should prepare ourselves to be ready when the BIG AND REAL EVENT arrives…

  2. James,

    I’ve been enjoying your blogs for a while now. I appreciate how you take a logical approach to comprehending your faith rather than a purely emotional place. Anyway there is something that has been on my mind recently concerning natural Israel and entering the World to come and I hope that I can express it here adequately without confusion.

    What began this was a crass comment someone made to me recently in a conversation on the ongoing relevance of Torah .

    The statement was: “Jewish people are going to hell anyway…”
    The assumption I believe that prompted this statement was that “Because Jewish people don’t believe in Jesus, they are going to be judged to eternal condemnation.”

    When I first heard the statement I thought to myself: “Well, is that really true? Does God’s promises (New Covenant heart/Kingdom/World to Come) to all natural Israel get revoked if the individual Jew doesn’t accept Jesus as Messiah or has, in rare occasion considering our modern world of technology and communication, never even heard of Jesus?”

    These were my thoughts. In other words: are the promises of God concerning the application of the New Covenant, the ingathering of Israel, entering the Kingdom, and acceptance into the World to Come for the people of Israel completely contingent on the belief of Jesus as Messiah?

    I suppose my thoughts are on the covenantal status of the non-Yeshua believing Jewish community today. As far as I understand it, within modern Judaism, the agreement is that all Jews will have a place in the Kingdom and the World to Come no matter what. This faith is based on God’s promises of the Kingdom and the New Covenant in the future.
    This attitude is reflected in the parable above about the consort and the maidservant. The consort is secure of her place in the World to Come based completely off of status with the husband. (This reminds me of the “once saved always saved movement in Christianity)

    But suppose during the absence of the husband, a messenger came baring news from the husband with a command from him. However the consort rejected the command because she didn’t believe in her heart the messenger was really from her husband, and therefore has rejected the husband. (I don’t know if this is making any since but…)

    Now, the consort still has faith in her husband that he will come back for her but will the husband upon returning still accept her even though she rejected him?

    I’m sure this human analogies of mine falls short but I hope my thoughts are coming across.

    In my current understanding not all Jews will be condemned, I know that Jewish believers who have the Messiah will be saved. And also Jews who have Jesus remain fully Jewish and don’t magically loose their Judaism for a non-Jewish Christianity.

    It seems to me that based off of the parables of Yeshua and his words, such as “whoever confesses me before men I will confess before the Father,” Matt 10:32 etc, are pretty black and white. But I’m confused sometimes because of the promises that were expressed in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. Should I flat out reject the view I’ve heard in modern Judaism that all Jews wether they believe in Yeshua or not will have a place in the World to Come based of the promises in the prophets?

    Have you ever thought about this?

    1. You’re making sense, Joshua. In order to answer your question in absolute terms, I’d have to speculate, and I hesitate to do that relative to God’s judgment since it belongs to Him and not me. The New Covenant language states that Israel’s sins will be forgiven and in Romans, Paul said that all Israel will be saved. This is interesting because earlier in Romans, Paul said that some of the natural branches (Jews) were cut off from the root temporarily for the sake of the Gentiles. He indicates that it is for the present time (which would have been in the first century, since that’s when Paul was penning his letter). However, when talking about the Messianic Kingdom and the life in the world to come, he says all Israel will be saved, probably with an eye on the New Covenant.

      I don’t know how, but it seems as if when Messiah comes Israel corporately will be saved.

      Jews are born into covenant, not just the Abrahamic and Sinai covenants, but the New Covenant too, since Jeremiah 31 makes it clear the covenant is made with Israel and Judah. I get your analogy of a messenger coming from the husband and the wife either accepting or rejecting it. D. Thomas Lancaster made a similar “parable” with a Father and two daughters. A messenger came from the Father but could only find one daughter and gave her the message of the promise and the proofs. This daughter knew for sure that the promises of the Father were real and literal because of the messenger’s (Jesus) evidence (bodily resurrection and the Holy Spirit) while the other daughter continued to have faith in the original promises but did not have the proof. Both daughters (believing and non-believing Jews) have faith, but only one daughter has faith based on “better promises” (see Hebrews).

      As far as how this translate into whether nor not both “daughters” will be “saved” when the Father returns, I’d have to speculate, but it seems as if in some way, God will accomplish this, even as He will write the Torah on all hearts and give His Spirit to all flesh in abundance, basically making it our nature to obey God without sin in the future age.

      Sorry if this doesn’t answer your question, but it’s the best I can do with a highly complex and not altogether plain set of circumstances.

  3. As for understanding the Bible and Jesus, see how far we can get by studying the languages and the comparisons of the O[lder] T[estimonies] (including comparing the Hebrew and Aramaic version with the Greek version, the Septuagint) and N[ewer]. I haven’t read the newest book pictured here, but I learned a lot from CAPERNICUS AND THE JEWS (and older material, much of which can be read by clicking on lines to the left) and recommend the Messianic Scriptures translation:

    I’ve listened to very little of FFOZ, but the one series I listened to a few years ago did some of that comparing via telling a story about someone who believed something about Jesus based on a quote from the OT. He later ran into the other translation and was confused (because it was different). But this was explained as not a “Christian” invention but a simple difference in the length of one letter between the two versions.

    James said, “I can only say that the more I study, the more I’m convinced that in order to understand Jesus, you have to understand the Judaism in which he lived and taught. You have to study ancient and arguably modern Judaism.”

    To an extent, I agree (and, I would add, more than one ancient Judaism as there were changes over time, as can be seen in the OT alone, and there were differences beyond Pharisees and Sadducees in Jesus’ time). However, the fact that a twentieth century Jewish believer in Jesus translated both (among other things) parts of the Zohar into English and a Hebrew version of Augustine’s CONFESSIONS [as well as some German material] doesn’t mean we should quote Augustine as expert for current faith. Thank you for linking in some earlier comment section to the paper on Levertoff.

    Also, while you quoted something rabbinic or kabbalic or such, recently, about not rejoicing if someone else is hurt but it helps yourself or seems like it’s good for your own concerns (and I appreciate that, both the quoting and the teaching or concept itself), I grew up believing that way based on having come across it in the Bible. Sadly, I’ve found that many people don’t care to grasp the thought, much less integrate it in life. [Obviously, even when taking it seriously, it has limitations. We do, for instance, rejoice that Pharaoh’s troops were stopped.]

    Anyway, as you’ve said elsewhere, we have to be very clear — and we have to be careful — not to get or feel dependent on materials that may be enriching or interesting but not Bible. Besides the nice things you quote from tradition, there are some really odd things. Still, it is good to be aware of Judaism past the first century and beyond the Bible so we don’t live according to impressions of caricature.

    The last think I want to mention, here, is that I’ve been pondering the notion that Jewish practice (and faith at least in some quarters) is law “unto itself” too in a sense (as Paul says of people who live decently without THE law). An example is the profound decision that Jewish men are to have only one wife. {And in the same realm of behavior, rape is completely unacceptable now.}

  4. “…length of one letter…”

    I’m referring to a letter as in something like half a stroke rather than a full stroke, not a letter like a whole “book” in the NT. Both translation examples are from the OT.

    1. Taking everything you’ve said back into the context (the way I conceptualize it) of my blog post, all I’m really saying is that we can’t understand the parables of Jesus without understanding how parables were used during that period of Jewish history. Once we do and we run the parables of Jesus through that interpretative matrix, we will likely discover a difference between what most Evangelicals think Jesus taught and the Jewish point of view of what he taught. If we accept the Jewish point of view, which should be quite a bit closer to Jesus’ actual intent, then we Gentile believers are going to have to adjust our beliefs on a good many things, including where we fit on the chain of priority of God relative to Israel.

  5. Yes, I agree beliefs need to be adjusted (and in a big way as you showed with your illustrations). Also, I enjoyed listening at the link you gave involving keys (sometime, not in this morning’s meditation). Stating that gentiles can come up with funny interpretations when they don’t know cultural context was probably funny not only because the idea of St. Peter at the pearly gates with keys is sort of “precious” (these days anyway) compared to what the keys really are, but because the St. Peter jokes are often, nevertheless, so fun. I hope Peter will forgive me if he doesn’t think they’re fun.

  6. I don’t mean they (those jokes) are all fun, obviously. I tend to like irony (which is ideal for a setting that is mistaken to begin with). Humor helps when hardly anyone is tuning in to care about things that are so important. Lancaster seems to be quite good-natured about it all.

  7. Since Joseph is a picture of Yeshua, consider this, perhaps the Jewish faithful yet unaccepting of Yeshua as Messiah, are like the ten brothers of Joseph that betrayed him. When Yeshua is revealed, just as the Ten were afraid, they will mourn, yet, still enter the world to come. Benjamin is like the Messianics and will have a double blessing and enter the world to come. Just a thought.
    Thank you, James for your work.

    1. And perhaps, Cynthia, we should not attempt to speculate about how HaShem might deal with various categories of people on the basis of imaginative analogies. There already exist many more direct statements of HaShem’s views and promises and mercies and judgments, and what He expects of people.

      Shavua Tov!

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