The Joseph story is several things at once — things in addition to being an account of something that happened way back in the days of the patriarchs. It is probably a story comforting to Israelites during or after the exile in Babylon. It is a story with foreshadowings of Israel’s later tribal relationships. But the thing that interests me the most is how the Joseph story is an example of God’s covenant blessing through Israel to the nations, who in turn bless Israel, and how this blessing becomes a mutual thing. Soulen called it “mutual blessing.” It is a pattern not only for Israel and the nations, but is a way of life that repairs the world. “Bless and curse not . . . do not return evil for evil.”
“The Meaning of the Joseph Story”
Messianic Jewish Musings
When I read the above-quoted paragraph, it struck me as an excellent summary of the relationship between Israel and the nations of the world, particularly the people of the nations who are called by His Name (Amos 9:12). It’s the relationship between Israel and the people of the nations who have come to faith in God through the merit of trusting in the accomplished works of Moshiach ben David, Yeshua (Jesus).
Last Spring, I wrote a multi-part review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s sermon series What About the New Covenant beginning with Part One here. Starting over two years ago, I initiated my own personal investigation into the New Covenant which extended into the following Spring. The upshot of all this was the discovery that only Jewish Israel is the object of the New Covenant and that it takes some work to figure out how anyone who isn’t Jewish can be blessed.
I’ve already posted enough links for the interested reader to follow my investigation and my reviews of this material, so I won’t repeat myself here. Suffice it to say that it’s not easy to find the linkage between the New Covenant and the people of the nations. It’s there, but it’s elusive.
But Derek’s wee article about the story of Joseph captured a key part of understanding how the nations benefit from Israel and conversely, how Israel benefits (or should benefit) from us.
In one of my numerous reviews of the Rudolph and Willits book Introduction to Messianic Judaism, it was also well documented by more than one contributor that Jews and Gentiles in Messianic Judaism are mutually dependent. In spite of my stated support for exclusive Messianic Jewish communities, it becomes impossible to fully isolate all Messianic Jews from all Messianic Gentiles or the non-Jewish believers in Jesus. While the covenant and community distinctions remain, we are two populations united within one body or ekklesia through Messiah. After all, God’s Temple is to be a house of prayer for all people (Isaiah 56:7) and not the Jewish people only.
But look at how the blessings flow as described in Derek’s paragraph. The blessings from Israel to the nations come first and only afterward do we bless Israel. Israel was always meant to be a light to the nations, to attract the nations to the God of Israel by being a special, set apart people.
So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the Lord our God whenever we call on Him? Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?
–Deuteronomy 4:6-8 (NASB)
He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations
So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
This isn’t to say that the nations in coming to God would co-opt Israel and her unique relationship with God through the covenants and the mitzvot, but it is not a mistake to believe that God has always intended to bring all the nations to Him, as it is written, “every knee will bow” (Isaiah 45:23, Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10).
But the relationship is complementary. Consider marriage as we understand it from the Bible. While a man and a woman become “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, Mark 10:8, Ephesians 5:31), it obviously doesn’t mean that all physical and behavioral distinctions between a man and a woman vanish on their wedding day. The man remains male and the woman remains female. They enter into a single “body” or “assembly” if you will, by accepting upon themselves a mutually beneficial and complementary set of roles in relation to one another. So too it is with Jews and Gentiles in the ekklesia of Messiah.
There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Such an understanding makes the above-quoted verse from Paul’s letter to the Galatians a bit more comprehensible. Being “one in Christ Jesus” is like being “one flesh” within the context of marriage. It doesn’t mean a total fusing of identity and physical characteristics. It means that even though we have different and distinct roles and identities, we all receive the blessings and benefits of abiding within the Messiah’s assembly.
In the story of Joseph, Joseph, representing Israel (and literally Israel’s son), blesses the nations of the world by saving the world, starting with Egypt, from starvation during a terrible seven-year famine. The ultimate consequence of Israel blessing the nations is that Egypt returns the favor by taking in Jacob and his entire family (representing national Israel), and giving them Goshen, the choicest portion of Egypt, as their own.
Of course, this foreshadows more sinister events, but if we stop the story right here, we have a good example of how Messianic Jews and Gentiles should relate to one another. It is through Israel that we Gentiles even have an awareness of the true nature of the Messiah and how our faith in him attaches us to God and allows us to benefit from many blessings of the New Covenant without actually being named as covenant members. We become equal co-participants in the ekklesia of Messiah, breaking bread, so to speak, alongside our Jewish brothers and sisters at the same table.
There are many Gentiles (such as me) who do not have local access to a Messianic community of Jews or even Messianic Gentiles, and yet, we are a part of a larger assembly, standing alongside each other in our mutual faith and trust in Hashem through devotion to Messiah. In that sense, we are never alone, though we may not, for months or even years, meet with another person who shares our conceptualization of the workings of the New Covenant and the continued validity of the mitzvot for the Jewish people as their obedience to covenant and King.
I recently read a blog post asking “How do you KNOW the will of God” for your life? In Judaism, one studies Torah not for the sake of knowledge, but in order to do Torah, that is, to perform and fulfill the mitzvot. This is somewhat different if you’re not Jewish and, for example, the wearing of tzitzit and laying of tefillin are not practical indicators of a Gentile’s righteousness.
I’ve written quite a lot lately on the topics of repentance, atonement, and forgiveness, and from my point of view, this is a full-time obligation to God for all of us. Beyond that, obedience to God is not a matter of selling your house and moving to some far away land to become a missionary to an isolated people, at least not for most of us. Obedience to God permeates every aspect of our lives and is involved in each decision and act we take in our every waking moment, regardless of who we are and what sort of work we do. Do we treat others with respect and fairness? Do we talk about people behind their backs? Do we take every opportunity to act with kindness, showing compassion, offering friendship?
It’s the answers to these questions that tell us if we are obeying God, not whether or not we put on particular “religious” clothing.
One should study Torah and do mitzvos even if not for their own sake, for doing so will eventually result in study and performance for their own sake.
This Talmudic statement has given rise to questions by the commentaries. Why is the Talmud condoning study of Torah for ulterior motives? What happens to the emphasis on sincerity in observance of Torah and mitzvos?
Acting “as if” can be constructive. If a person who suffers from a headache goes on with his or her activities “as if” the headache did not exist, that headache is more likely to disappear than if he or she interrupts activities to nurse the headache. “Rewarding” the headache by taking a break only prolongs it.
Study of Torah and performance of mitzvos require effort, may be restrictive, and may interfere with other things one would rather do. Under such circumstances, there may not be great enthusiasm for Torah and mitzvos. However, if one nevertheless engages in Torah and mitzvos “as if” one really wanted to, the resistance is likely to dissipate. The reasoning is that since one is determined to do so anyway, there is no gain in being reluctant, and true enthusiasm may then develop. On other hand, if one were to delay engaging in Torah and mitzvos until one had the “true spirit,” that spirit might never appear.
It is not only permissible but also desirable to develop constructive habits by doing things “as if” one really wanted to.
Today I shall…
…try to practice good habits, and do those things that I know to be right even though I may not like doing them.
-Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
Growing Each Day for Kislev 23
While Rabbi Twerski is writing for a Jewish audience, I think the rest of us can take something away from his message as well. It’s not like the majority of the mitzvot don’t affect us in some way. Feeding the hungry is the same for a Gentile as a Jew. So is visiting a sick friend in the hospital, respecting your parents, honoring your spouse, teaching your children about God.
These are the blessings we receive from Israel, the knowledge that there is the One, Unique God of Heaven who made us all, and that He is personally involved in the lives of each and every one of His human creations.
Our response needs to be both to God and to Israel, offering devotion to the Almighty and honoring Israel in her special and unique relationship with God. Paul asked his Gentile disciples to take up a collection for the poor of Jerusalem and that’s one way we can pay back Israel for her blessings to us. Another particularly important way we can bless Israel is to recognize her covenant relationship with God as belonging exclusively to the Jewish people and as established at Sinai. We need to realize and acknowledge that all of the covenants we read about in the Bible are between Israel and God including the New Covenant. It is only through Israel and the grace of God that we are saved and redeemed (John 4:22).
Jesus said “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s” (Mark 12:17), but I say, render unto Israel what is Israel’s and thereby bless those who have blessed us.