What is the differences between the letter of the Law and the Spirit of the Law in Pauline terminology?
A discussion on the promise in Jeremiah 31 regarding the Torah written on our hearts in the New Covenant, with reference to Paul’s discourse in Romans 7-8 regarding the Spirit and the Law.
-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Thirty-One: The Inner Torah
Originally presented on November 16, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series
As I was listening to this recording, I paid close attention to see if I could hear the sounds of an audience in the background, indicating that Lancaster was actually speaking to his congregation at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship rather than this being a direct repurposing of the third lecture on his What About the New Covenant CD series.
Yes, I could hear people in the background, but the material was virtually identical, right down to the jokes he told. I don’t feel like writing the same review over again, so you can get the details about what Lancaster said concerning “the Inner Torah” at Review of “What About the New Covenant” Part 3.
However, my reviews are always influenced by whatever else I’m reading or listening to at the time, so my head is in a different place now than it was last April when I wrote that review. And given my recent reviews of J.K. McKee’s book One Law for All: From the Mosaic Texts to the Work of the Holy Spirit (see Part 1 and Part 2 as well as my follow-up in If You Love Something), I heard different details than I did before, or at least they seemed more pronounced this time around.
Lancaster was talking about how some Christians, including some Messianics, understand the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit could be thought of by these folks as “obedience light”. The covenant conditions God wants Christians to fulfill have not only changed, they are very few and fairly easy to manage. You often can tell what God wants just by how you feel.
I’ve heard a lot of Christians say they’ve felt led by the Spirit to do this and not led to do that. One of the examples Lancaster used was how (amazingly) a Messianic Gentile could actually say they aren’t led by the Spirit to observe Shabbat. Lancaster seemed to be making a point that Christians really should feel led by the Spirit to observe Shabbos.
But later on in his sermon, Lancaster went through a list of the signs of the different covenants and the Sabbath is the sign of the Sinai Covenant God made with Israel.
“But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, ‘You shall surely observe My sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you.
–Exodus 31:13 (NASB)
I’ve just spent several blog posts and frankly, a lot of years believing and writing that the Sinai covenant conditions, that is, the Torah mitzvot, don’t apply to Gentiles as they do to Jewish Israel, so what do we do with Lancaster’s statement here?
He also said that the sign of the New Covenant (also see my review of last week’s sermon) is the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, which we see famously in Acts 2 with the Jewish Apostles and Acts 10 with the Gentile Cornelius and his entire household. We also know from 2 Corinthians 3:3, 2 Corinthians 5:5, and Ephesians 1:13-14 that the Holy Spirit given to believers is but a down-payment, a token, a small deposit on the whole sum that will not be delivered in full until the resurrection.
So, as Lancaster said before, we’re not living in New Covenant times yet because if we were, then we wouldn’t sin but instead, have the conditions of the covenant written on our hearts as opposed to on paper or animal skins, and we would have an apprehension of God equal to or greater than the greatest of all the prophets.
But if the conditions of the covenant don’t change from the Sinai Covenant to the New Covenant, and if the Sabbath is a sign of the Sinai (Old) Covenant God made exclusively with Israel, and if Lancaster believes that Gentiles today should be led by the Holy Spirit, our down-payment on the deliverables to come in the New Covenant times, to observe the Sabbath, what does that say about Messianic Gentiles and our observance relative to Messianic (or any other kind of) Jews?
So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!”
–Romans 8:12-15 (NASB)
We are not under obligation or “debtors” to the flesh, that is our human inclinations, but to the Spirit, which leads us to obey God as if His statues were already written on our hearts, even though they aren’t yet. What makes Romans 6, 7, and 8 so confusing is when Paul refers to “law”, he’s not always talking about the Torah. He’s comparing and contrasting the Law of Torah with the Law of Sin. What’s the Law of Sin?
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
–Romans 6:23 (NASB)
Lancaster didn’t go into a detailed analysis of these passages in Romans so neither will I, but know that it’s quite possible to see the Torah as always good in Paul’s words, and when the law is supposedly denigrated by Paul, this law is the law of sin and death.
But if we are obligated to at least try to the best of our abilities to live life as if it were already the Messianic Era, already the resurrection, when the Torah is written on all hearts and the Spirit is fully poured out on all flesh (Joel 2:28), and that Torah is identical to the conditions of the Sinai Covenant given to Israel in the days of Moses, then where does that leave all Christians right now?
Lancaster, citing Jewish mysticism, leads us to the idea that there is a heavenly Torah, a supernal Torah in Heaven, and that this Torah is the perfect expression of God’s will and wisdom. Lancaster says it is this Torah that will be written on our hearts.
He also says that there is no difference between the supernal Torah and the earthly Torah, but it gets confusing. Over a year ago I wrote a review of Michael Fishbane’s book The Garments of Torah: Essays in Biblical Hermeneutics. While the book was not mystical as such, it certainly illustrated the difficulty in translating God’s perfect will and wisdom into methods, principles, and terms human beings can understand let alone perform. When God “clothed” the Torah so that it could be delivered to our world, the material world, it took on the nature and characteristics of our world so it could be an adequate interface for people.
If it is this “unclothed” Torah that will be written on our hearts, what will that be like? Will the actual mitzvot (Shabbat, Kosher, tzitzit, visiting the sick, charity to the poor) remain exactly the same and our human abilities to perfectly carry them out will be enhanced, or will the nature and character of the commandments themselves be subtly changed because they are internal drives and not external lists?
I don’t know. It gets pretty metaphysical from here.
I did recall a quote from mechon-mamre.org about the days of Mashiach:
In the messianic age, the whole world will recognize YHWH, the LORD God of Israel, as the only true God, and the Torah will be seen as the only true religion (Isaiah 2,3; 11,10; Micah 4,2-3; Zechariah 14,9).
The only true religion for the whole world will be the Torah.
Is this saying that there’s a principle in Judaism that the Torah will be applied to the Gentiles as well as the Jews in Messianic Days including what are called “sign commandments?”
If I didn’t know what First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) taught (Lancaster is a primary author of FFOZ’s educational material), I could be convinced Lancaster was preaching some form of “One Law.”
And yet I know that they do describe two sometimes overlapping paths for Jews and Gentiles in Messiah. Their long-awaited Sabbath Table materials have content that is tailored differently, at certain junctions in the reading, to be recited either by a Jew or a Gentile.
And yet, when Lancaster said that the Shema is recited at Beth Immanuel every week, and I know the majority of people who attend that congregation are not Jewish, I found myself wondering if a Gentile disciple of Messiah could or should recite the Shema. I sometimes miss the “old days” when I did recite the Shema on Shabbat, but in deference to the requirements of Messianic Jews (not to mention my wife who is not Messianic but is a Jew), I surrendered that practice along with most other behaviors one could think of as “jewish”.
The very first words you utter when you recite the Shema are:
Hear, O Israel, the L-rd is our G-d, the L-rd is One.
But if everything I’ve been taught and believe is correct, we Gentiles are not Israel, nor will we ever be Israel. Such a thing is a direct violation of the promises God made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob about the Land and their inheritance.
Lancaster quoted from Isaiah something I must have read many times before but never picked up on:
O people in Zion, inhabitant in Jerusalem, you will weep no longer. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when He hears it, He will answer you. Although the Lord has given you bread of privation and water of oppression, He, your Teacher will no longer hide Himself, but your eyes will behold your Teacher.
–Isaiah 30:19-20 (NASB)
Of course, the prophet is talking to Israel and not the rest of the world, but given that he is referencing a teacher, according to certain circles of Judaism, one of the things the Messiah is supposed to do is teach Torah correctly. Except that once the Holy Spirit is fully poured out on all flesh, that won’t really be necessary since it will all be inscribed on our hearts, the full wisdom and will of God. Our “teacher” then, will no longer hide Himself and we will see Him.
I normally put a section toward the end of these reviews called What Did I Learn but my entire “review” of this sermon today is about interpreting and learning (or at least struggling to learn) rather than an analysis of Lancaster’s lecture and what was new to me in it.
One thing is certain. In the New Covenant age there will be no questions, only answers. Our teacher will be in our hearts. We only currently possess a small down-payment against the full amount to be paid in the resurrection, but Lancaster says that’s no excuse to slack off and blame God for not giving us everything we need up front. The answers are coming but we are supposed to behave as if they’re already here. I feel like I’ve been blindfolded with my hands tied behind my back, and then sent into a maze with the instructions to make it to the other end without falling victim to any of the many, sometimes lethal traps that infest the maze at every turn.
No wonder a life of faith feels so dangerous and frustrating. No wonder it’s so hard to understand the difficult teachings of the Bible. No wonder the temptation is almost overwhelming to turn off my brain and to cleave to the teacher with the easiest story to follow.
But that would drive me crazy. My “inner teacher” won’t allow it.
Lancaster likens faith to a battle between our flesh and spirit natures, a lifetime struggle between two elemental forces locked in conflict until trumpets sound and graves open depositing the dead into life again. The battle is hard but that’s no excuse. We don’t have the option of giving up because if we do, sin and flesh wins and there’s no resurrection among the righteous for us…only among the damned.
I’m tired of the war, God. I’m tired of fighting with myself every waking minute of every day. And yet people of faith, both Gentile Christians and religious Jews have been fighting this battle for thousands of years. None of them were perfect at it and none of them found its even remotely easy.
I’m no tzaddik. I’m no saint. I’m only a guy trying to figure it all out and then live it all out. It would be nice to have the rules of life all spelled out for us, but as I’ve been trying to say, they’re not, at least not very clearly. Our teacher is still hiding.
Yes, I’ve heard Christians say that “Bible” stands for “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.” A little too cute for me and it trivializes the enormous struggle each one of us faces every day. What do we learn from the sermon of the Inner Torah? Only that we must pray for endurance and perseverance that we last in faith until it arrives, until the King returns, and may God have mercy on those of us whose strength should fail.
Addendum: I wrote this about a week ago and obviously I’ve been doing a lot of reading, pondering, and writing since then. On the FFOZ eDrash for Torah Portion Re’eh, referencing Deut. 12:7, 12, it says in part:
Messiah offers us a similar invitation. He invites us into the Father’s house eternally. He tells His disciples, “In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you.” (John 14:2) He invites us into the LORD’s house, not just as invited guests, but as family members. Thanks to Yeshua, we will rejoice before the Father in His holy house for all eternity. We will sit at the table in the kingdom with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all Israel. How could we ever refuse such a fabulous invitation?
When I read “not just as invited guests, but as family members,” I saw the relationship between the redeemed nations and Israel again knocked somewhat into a cocked hat. If we believing Gentile disciples of the Master are considered “family members,” that implies a level of access and intimacy very close to the born-sons (if Gentiles are considered adopted). The only way I can resolve this within my current conceptual framework is that in the Messianic Kingdom, the ekklesia of Jews and Gentiles do share a “oneness” of access and knowledge of God. But what does that make Gentiles and Jews together in Messiah?
17 thoughts on “Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: The Inner Torah”
While I seem to disagree with Lancaster about the notion of a heavenly Torah that could be deemed different from the Torah given to Israel through Moshe (and I do so based on Deut.30:12), I would like to address the notion of what the new covenant described by Jeremiah can possibly mean to non-Jews, because they do not participate in that covenant as such. After all, nothing has changed in the nature of that covenant which is made only with Jews (Israel and Judah, now re-united). Rav Yeshua said nothing to change the stipulations of this covenant as he invoked the notion of his “blood” (and all the symbolic ramifications of his martyrdom) as representing the application of that covenant.
So the promise is that HaShem would write His Torah, that He gave to Moshe and all Israel to interpret, apply, and administer, upon Jewish hearts that they would all know Him intimately. PP(F) Levertov, in his ‘Hasidic interpretation of Yohanan’s mystical besorah, invoked the notion of those devoted to Rav Yeshua’s teachings becoming living representatives of the Torah, by thoroughly internalizing it. This is consonant with Rav Yeshua’s own description of himself as the way, the truth, and the life — which was a classic description of the Torah — and it likewise fits with the notion that no one approaches the Father except in accord with its principles. Likewise, the Jew who immerses himself in Torah with this intimate sense of it is thus experiencing this inscription of Torah “on the heart”, in anticipation of the messianic kingdom, as an approach to our heavenly Father and King — thereby bringing the immediacy of the kingdom of heaven into present experience.
Now that I have addressed the notion of “Torah on the heart” as a covenantal anticipation and partial fulfillment as promised to Jews, how may we envision it having an impact also on non-Jews who attach themselves to the Jewish Messiah? They do not become members of Israel or participants in the covenant per se, and they are not legally obligated by the Torah covenant. Therefore, something must become available to them because of their increasingly close proximity to the knowledge of Torah and its impact on those who actually are members of the covenant. In one other recent post, I invoked the analogy of gentiles entering the Temple’s “court of the gentiles” in order to offer sacrifices in accordance with Torah stipulations for gentiles doing so. I compared the symbolic sacrifice of Rav Yeshua to such sacrifices, but offered in the heavenly sanctuary by Rav Yeshua as a mediating Melchitzedekian priest. Such symbolism reflects the ratification of continual repentance, after which the forgiven offerer learns to walk in newness of life in accordance with HaShem’s guidance (e.g., the aspects of Torah that apply to him or her). In another recent post I addressed the notion of a gentile ‘Hasid and the appropriate reflections of Torah that may be applicable — in which a gentile might become thoroughly immersed in order to experience the same sort of spiritual intimacy with HaShem, and enter into the perceptive environment of the kingdom of heaven in its metaphorical sense in anticipation of its future physical realization. Thus non-Jews would experience spirituality from outside and alongside the covenant in the same manner as intended for Jews inside the covenant.
In such an environment the Shema may take on additional meaning, as a gentile reply and response to its pronouncement by Jews. As Jews say: “Shm’a Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad” (“Hear, O Israel, HaShem is our G-d, solely the One-and-Only HaShem”), followed by “Baruch shem k’vod, malchuto l’olam va’ed” (“Blessed is His glorious purpose — an eternal kingdom”), then gentile disciples of Rav Yeshua may reply: “Hear, O Israel, HaShem your G-d has become our G-d also, the One-and-Only HaShem” (“Shm’a Israel, v’hayah Adonai Eloheichem gam Hu ‘aleinu, Adonai Echad”), perhaps followed by Zech.14:9 “V-hayah Adonai l-melech ‘al col ha-aretz — ba-yom ha-hu, yihiyei Adonai Echad u’shmo echad” (HaShem shall be King over all the earth — in that day HaShem shall be [recognized as] One, and His purpose [as] unified).
But maybe I’m already looking a little too far ahead ….
James. As I am (slowly) working my way through McKee’s ‘One Law’, I am getting more uncomfortable with some things he says. They sound very much like the pastor I discussed this with: that Jews can come into the kingdom but don’t have any special rights/privileges/status.
The more I am following your blog and reading through material from both sides, I believe I’ve landed here:
– Jews are and always will be God’s chosen people
– They have the right of first born son – a double portion (and to me, the right to the land of Israel, while we inherit the land of the nations.)
– The Torah is God’s standard of righteousness. It is ‘the law of the land’. And since I belong to the Kingdom of Messiah, I should follow it.
– do I take the place of Israel? Not at all. Israel is my big brother who is there to teach me about a Father I never knew before, because I was outside His family. But since I am now part of the family, His rules apply.
Perhaps it’s because I was raised Italian/American, that I place such high value on ‘la famiglia’. In doing a family history years ago, I found cousins in Canada who had not had contact with my side of the family for 50 years. Yet when I took my family to visit them, we were not strangers but family. No time or distance could change that. But the funny thing was, the longer we hung around them (they were from Sicily, and some of the older relatives didn’t speak English) the more I and my kids and even my Anglo husband acted ‘Italian’ – sing song talking, using our hands more than usual, etc. Perhaps similar to acting ‘Jewishly’ but not Jewish?
This is how I see Israel and us gentiles. We are family.
Lancaster, in one of his monthly teachings, spoke about the Torah being valid until heaven and earth pass away. But that though heaven and earth will pass away, Yeshua’s words will not. (Mt 518, 24:35) I am guessing this is what you are referring to as the ‘unclothed’ Torah.
I think we get into trouble when we separate the spirit of the Torah and the letter of the Torah. Or pick and choose what we will/should follow. The story of Solomon and the yud comes to mind and I believe Yeshua could have had this in mind during His Sermon on the Mount.
Keep fighting the good fight of faith, James! Perhaps that’s all the fight is: our internal struggle?
Yes our walk is difficult, the Ramchal discribes this journey like passing through a huge maze with some slippery turns etc. And he further said that it is impossible to get through this maze without the proper Instructions (Torah) and teachers (Chazal) to guide us through. But now our question is, what are the detailed Instructions for Gentiles? I believe we do indeed have ‘enough’ revealed Instructions for Gentiles to get through, maybe not as specific but i believe it’s more than enough.
(I truly like the path observed by FFOZ and Beth Immanuel for Gentiles but i know this might not work for all Christians etc).
James you said: “And yet, when Lancaster said that the Shema is recited at Beth Immanuel every week, and I know the majority of people who attend that congregation are not Jewish, I found myself wondering if a Gentile disciple of Messiah could or should recite the Shema. I sometimes miss the “old days” when I did recite the Shema on Shabbat, but in deference to the requirements of Messianic Jews (not to mention my wife who is not Messianic but is a Jew), I surrendered that practice along with most other behaviors one could think of as “jewish”.”
I believe that Gentiles indeed could and ‘should’ recite the Shema including other mitzvot that are not obligatory for Gentiles. Because the Shma is primarily an acknowledgement of G-d’s pure oneness, and since gentiles, like Jews, are prohibited from believing in other gods aside from the one, true G-d in is highly recommended by some of the great sages of Judaism. For example, the Rambam says, “Anyone not required to recite the Shma may do so if his daas is settled” (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Krias Shma 4:7). And Rashi says, “The “Shma” refers to gentiles ultimately accepting the unity of G-d” (Rashi, Devarim 6:4).
@PL: First, I may have misstated what Lancaster believes about the Heavenly Torah. I don’t know if he believes it is somehow different from the Torah we have on Earth and I can only imagine that some sort of “transformative process” must occur when the Heavenly Torah is “clothed” and transfered to the physical realm. Of course all this is heavily mystical and a literalist would probably dismiss all this as metaphorical language.
That’s pretty much what I thought would have to happen in order to make “writing the Torah on the heart” work for Gentiles as well as Jews. The process would have to be filtered through Acts 15 and whatever legal pronouncements were made that define the application of Torah to the Gentile.
I like your adaptation of the Shema for Gentiles and it fits with the idea that in the Messianic Age, Gentiles will come alongside Jews and go up to Jerusalem to pray and offer sacrifices at the Temple.
@Ro: First of all, thanks for the complement.
You might want to see PL’s comment that came in just above yours to see what he says about the relative applications of Torah for Jews and Gentiles in Messiah.
I agree that my read on much of One Law theology is ironically quite Christian. Tim Hegg is essentially a Baptist and a Calvinist in spite of the “Jewish trimmings” so to speak (I don’t mean that unkindly since all of my face-to-face interactions with Tim have always been cordial and gracious).
It’s an interesting “family” between the Jews and Gentiles in Messiah but I think you put it well that as the “first born,” Jewish Israel has a right to a double-portion of the inheritance which, in this case, includes the physical Land of Israel whose borders have been defined by God. Israel also has added responsibilities to God than we “younger siblings” including additional mitzvot that are assigned only to them.
Many Gentiles bristle at this idea of inequality and McKee’s take is that Jews and Gentiles are mutually submissive to each other thereby differing little if at all from each other in responsibilities and inheritance, but being the chosen people, what looks from the outside as extra rights and other goodies that they get and we don’t really amounts to extra duties and responsibilities that, as we read in Acts 15 and 21, we were not assigned in order to not inhibit the Gentiles from coming to faith and reaping the blessings of the New Covenant.
Yes, that is the $64,000 question we always come back to.
I believe PL’s latest comment addresses Gentiles reciting the Shema pretty well. Nice to see the Rambam and Rashi are also on the same page. 😉
I was just reading the “Ask the Rabbi” column at Aish.com in which a person asked:
Here’s a very interesting part of the Rabbi’s response:
I know it’s pretty “mystical” idea that some non-Jews might be born with Jewish souls as a way to explain why some Gentiles convert to Judaism, on the other hand, given the very existence of this blog and the people who visit, it’s hard to deny that there is a significant sub-group of non-Jews who have a great interest in studying and understanding their/our faith through a Jewish lens.
Thanks to the Apostle Paul and his letter to the Galatians, we discover that we don’t have to convert in order to reap the blessings of a covenant relationship with God and that we can be considered as (adopted) sons and daughters of the Most High.
The quote attributed to Abraham ben Abraham, “Although the nations rejected the Torah, individual members of those nations sought to accept it” may explain why some non-Jews have such a yearning to adopt greater and greater observance of the mitzvot including for some, those mitzvot that actually make them look “Jewish” to an outside observer (hence the disagreements we sometimes have about just which of the mitzvot should be allowed for the Gentile).
Assuming Gentiles aren’t literally born with Jewish souls, the interesting question is whether or not God “programs” certain non-Jewish individuals to follow a more “jewishly” inclined path and if so, why.
Listen, O Israel, I’m with you, I’m beside you, you are my big brother and Your G-d is my G-d. I want to walk in His paths, and I want to follow Messiah.
Yes O Israel, I truly want to say from the bottom of my heart:
Hear O Israel, HaShem is our G-d, solely the One-and-Only Hashem.
James, thank you for sharing the rabbi’s quote. While I agree with you that it isn’t likely a Jewish soul, I do believe God programs some of us to a more Jewishly path. Couldn’t Ruth be considered one of these? ‘Your G-d is my G-d, your people, my people’ when she was no longer bound by marriage.
I could certainly entertain the notion, I just don’t want to be guilty of reading too much into scripture.
Believing Gentiles are part of Israel. We are not part of the Old Covenant, but of the New, in Yehoshua. We were grafted in to the Root of Israel, replacing those of physical Judaism that were cut off due to unbelief, and even of those, if they were to believe while alive, repent, and produce fruit, they would be graft back in, without any of us being kicked out.
Jehoshua said, in Romans 11:16-24 (CJB) ,
16 Now if the hallah offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole loaf. And if the root is holy, so are the branches.
17 But if some of the branches were broken off, and you — a wild olive — were grafted in among them and have become equal sharers in the rich root of the olive tree…,
18 then don’t boast as if you were better than the branches! However, if you do boast, remember that you are not supporting the root, the root is supporting you.
19 So you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.”
20 True, but so what? They were broken off because of their lack of trust. However, you keep your place only because of your trust. So don’t be arrogant; on the contrary, be terrified!
21 For if God did not spare the natural branches, he certainly won’t spare you!
22 So take a good look at God’s kindness and his severity: on the one hand, severity toward those who fell off; but, on the other hand, God’s kindness toward you — provided you maintain yourself in that kindness! Otherwise, you too will be cut off!
23 Moreover, the others, if they do not persist in their lack of trust, will be grafted in; because God is able to graft them back in.
24 For if you were cut out of what is by nature a wild olive tree and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree!
Yochanan the Immerser warned the Pharisees and Saducees that came to him to be immersed that their claim to be Sons of Abraham entiled them…and stated that any stone could be turned into a Son of Abraham.
Matthew 3:7-12 (CJB)
7 But when Yochanan saw many of the P’rushim and Tz’dukim coming to be immersed by him, he said to them, “You snakes! Who warned you to escape the coming punishment?
8 If you have really turned from your sins to God, produce fruit that will prove it!
9 And don’t suppose you can comfort yourselves by saying, ‘Avraham is our father’! For I tell you that God can raise up for Avraham sons from these stones!
10 Already the axe is at the root of the trees, ready to strike; every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown in the fire!
11 It’s true that I am immersing you in water so that you might turn from sin to God; but the one coming after me is more powerful than I — I’m not worthy even to carry his sandals — and he will immerse you in the Ruach HaKodesh and in fire.
12 He has with him his winnowing fork; and he will clear out his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn but burning up the straw with unquenchable fire!”
G-d is not interested in a bloodline exclusively, although the Jews as a nation are the apple of His eye, and the Believing Jews in particular, and it is they who inherit Physical Israel in the Kingdom of G-d, although I am sure we will be visiting Israel on the moedim, and will have access to Yehoshua as one of His younger brothers.
Trusting G-d is essential…Abraham was saved by faith, and his trust in YHVH that whatever G-d wanted would be as it should be, even if he had to slay Isaac. But the fruit of trusting G-d is the real key to being of Israel.
The Jews that believe in Yehoshua already have both trust, and fruit comes automatically from their obedience, and must persevere in both. They are both of Physical and Spiritual Israel.
Gentiles need to also strive to trust always in Yehoshua, and produce fruit as well, perservering until the last moment, and that makes us a part of Yehoshua. How could we be less a part of Spiritual Israel?
Shavua Tov, Questor — And as they used to say in the old westerns: “Smile when you say that, stranger!” You really should be cautious and think twice whenever you find yourself tempted to use the word “replace” in any connection with Jews. But more to the point, believing gentiles are not part of Israel, not even “the Israel of G-d”, nor do they replace anyone by being metaphorically grafted into a proverbial domestically cultured olive tree. That tree does not represent Israel, per se; it represents the community of faith. At one time only Jews were participants in that community; and it was the Torah covenant that cultured them (us) to it. Now gentiles who trust HaShem via Rav Yeshua are also participants in that community of faith, alongside faithful Jews, which also includes faithful Jews who trust HaShem without knowing or understanding the real Rav Yeshua and his special role. Anyone on that metaphorical tree who does not continue to trust HaShem is thus no longer participating in faith and thus is “broken off”; but be very careful about judging who is in that condition and do not assume that it applies automatically to all “non-messianic” Jews. That also would constitute arrogant boasting against the cultivated branches. You are not wrong to say that G-d is not interested in bloodlines — but He is most certainly and very zealously interested in His covenant and His irrevocable promises to the Jewish people, for Avraham’s sake and for His own sake, even when (at times) the Jewish people in the aggregate have behaved unworthily.
Not all sons of Avraham are also sons of Israel. His grandson Esav was only a brother of Jacob/Israel, and did not inherit the promises. Avraham had other children besides Ishmael who also were sent away as non-inheritors. None of them are sons of Israel. Only the descendants of those who came out of Egypt with Moshe to Mount Sinai, who received the Torah covenant and its responsibilities, are accounted as Israel. Moreover, only those descendants among these who remained faithful to that covenant across the subsequent generations continued to be Israel. The majority of the breakaway ten tribes in the northern kingdom of Israel were killed by the Assyrians or taken captive to places where they could not maintain any semblance of covenant faithfulness (even if they had any motivation to do so, which would have been uncharacteristic of these breakaway tribes), and their descendants assimilated and ceased to be Jews. Those who did survive and were motivated to repent, fled southward into the kingdom of Judah, were later taken captive with the other Judeans into Babylon, and all remaining descendants of covenantal Israel emerged from that exile as the Jewish people whom we recognize not only in Rav Yeshua’s era but even today as we conclude a second exile. HaShem has preserved His covenanted people Israel as such, and our limited numbers still do not include “believing gentiles”.
Any apostolic references to “spiritual Israel” that you may encounter refer to members of physical Israel. Gentile receipt of HaShem’s blessings is not a result of inclusion in “Israel”, nor in any covenant made with Avraham or since then, not even the “new” one. These blessings are made available to non-Jews gratis, as a free gift of grace, apart from any covenant though in response to patterns of behavior and faith that parallel covenantal behavior. Nonetheless, Rav Shaul did include in his olive tree analogy an implicit threat that faithless branches are not worth anything except that, as branches containing the essence of olive oil, they burn well. However, in a post-Holocaust world, I also recommend very strongly against applying any such thoughts toward Jews. People might tend to get the wrong idea. Certainly they have done so many times in prior generations.
On reciting the Sh’ma: This is what Nanos (Mark Nanos) says caught his attention early on about what Paul was saying of J’shua, that Israel and the other nations have one God because God is one and only and that J’shua had brought the timing about… but that those nations are yet diverse as illustration of the fact that God is the God of all forever.
As for nations being of Israel but not Israel, the idea (as explained by some) is, as you’ve noted somewhere, something of a commonwealth (for purposes of conveying concepts). A country or person in relationship to a commonwealth will have many similar characteristics and values and even laws (while they don’t have to be exactly the same) when in a distant land or on an island that isn’t the main hub.
A story I like concerns a past moment in time when Australia shut down their government (somewhat like the U.S. congresspeople did recently). The Queen sent a representative to fire the people entrusted with managing the government, because they couldn’t or wouldn’t do their job. This didn’t end Australia being Australia or England being England.
Now, I wonder, too, about the application (mentioned by some and held to by some I suppose) that gentiles might be guests at “the wedding” — as the parable of guests says that there were going to be other guests but that they didn’t care about attending. We still get a replacement. There’s no telling who is who. Not on this topic (guests/bride and groom) but on the one about the tree with root and branches), Nanos points out that metaphors and so on probably don’t match up perfectly and can seem to go “awry” with regard to complete follow-through.
I was addressing James (often a default, but I should probably be more clear as another default is addressing the last person who posted). Your post wasn’t there for me to read before I started typing this afternoon, PL. Now having started to read your post, I think that’s what I recall Nanos saying about the tree too, faith. It’s hard to be sure, possible. And can the root be somewhat different from the tree and then branches?
Hi James, I just want to say that you are again resonating my heart with your words. How profoundly are your thoughts! You would touch the untouchable and the untouchable touched you. Your heart burns but doesn’t reach the burning Flame, however He made your heart burn. I also, I don’t get it. It’s to high. And I think that we live in a time that He, our Teacher, moved away, as the shechinah moved away from Israel. And now, yes, you expresses it: “Our teacher is still hiding”. And this while we are in a migration state. We are waiting desperately and looking forward for His revelation! As the world is turning to it also. A this moment.
@Marleen — You raise an interest question about the root of Rav Shaul’s metaphorical olive tree. But if we explore the metaphor along this line, and the tree is the community of faith, then we should ask: “What is the root of faith?”. Or, what is it in which this faith must be rooted? In this case, it would seem that it must be rooted in HaShem’s faithfulness and reliability to keep the promises He has made. Certainly the essence of those promises is the notion of redemption, which often requires out-and-out rescue (i.e., “salvation”). Rav Yeshua’s name reflects exactly that notion of salvation; and conformity with his teachings does redeem a life — structuring it to avoid all manner of spiritual dangers — which is to say, rescuing or saving it from those dangers. And what is the nature of conformity with Rav Yeshua’s teaching except a conformity with HaShem’s Torah by means of faith? So Rav Yeshua does represent the root of that tree, and one may even wonder if all faithful conformity with the principles of Torah is, in spiritual terms, an acceptance of HaShem’s “yeshuah”, so that everyone who comes to the Father does so by means of that with which Rav Yeshua identified himself as the way and the truth and the life, which are a classic description of Torah. One must be careful about stretching metaphors beyond their intended capacity, but sometimes they provide surprising insights.
@Questor: Re: being grafted in, I haven’t gotten to Romans 11 in my “Reflections” series on Romans but I have very definite ideas about who and what we are actually grafted into, that is, the idenity of the “root,” which from my perspective, makes things very clear. I’ll say a lot more when I dedicate a blog post to the topic but in short, I don’t think the root is national Israel or the Jewish people.
@PL: Re: who is on the root and who is knocked off, I believe even those Jews who are not currently on the root because of their lack of faith in Yeshua are nevertheless still within God’s perview and God is still with them. I believe He will bring all of Israel back in time for Jeremiah 31 says God will forgive Israel’s sins and Paul in Romans 11 says that all of Israel will be saved. God is both in the church when Christians pray and in the synagogue when Jews are davening. Even those Jews who do not follow Yeshua are still bound by the Sinai Covenant, which God said He would never break. Israel will be brought into the New Covenant, some now, and some later.
@Marleen: Gentiles are part of the ekklesia, the assembly of Messiah, but you’re right, that’s not the same thing as national Israel, which is for the Jews alone. I agree that as invited wedding guests, it behooves us to attend the wedding and not to automatically select the best seats in the house. The Master of the feast will show us where it is proper for us to sit.
@Jos: Glad to see you commenting here again. Thank you for your kind words.
PL said: “So Rav Yeshua does represent the root of that tree…”
That’s going to be very interesting to write about when I get to the “reflection” of that chapter in Romans.