Ancient Jerusalem

Render to Israel

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.”

-Derek Leman
“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.”

Isaiah 49:6

lightThis 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.

Galatians 3:28

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.

ForgivenessI’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.

-Pesachim 50b

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
Aish.com

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.

JerusalemOur 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.

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14 thoughts on “Render to Israel”

  1. You and the UMJC like to compare the relationship of Messianic Gentiles and Messianic Jews to the complimentary asymmetry between a man and a woman in a marital relationship because you think this serves a good example where 2 partners are joined by covenant yet are obligated to different sets of commandments (i.e. role differentiation). However, this is the wrong precedent because the precedent to which you refer applies to gender. The correct precedent would have to refer to Gentiles who are grafted into Israel–and the only precedent there is as follows “There shall be ONE LAW for the native Israelite and the Gentile who joins you”.

    Your analogy strikes you as beautiful because who doesn’t find marriage beautiful? However, the beautiful argument isn’t necessary the truthful argument.

    Shalom,

    Peter

  2. Good morning, Peter. I think you know by now that our opinions differ widely in certain areas and that we are not going to agree in this particular arena. I’ve written a great deal on this topic as have you, so I’m sure the interested reader could simply search our blogs to find the relevant posts.

  3. @Peter — I won’t invoke any “OL”-related issue here, but I will offer a clarification of Rav Shaul’s olive-tree analogy to assert that the tree does not represent Israel but rather a broader community of all those who trust in HaShem. At one time the only members of that faith community were Jews, and thus the olive-tree of the faithful would have looked identical to the community of Israel, whose branches were native to that tree and that faithfulness because of the Torah covenant. However, the process of grafting non-Jews onto that tree was based on their reception of the principles of faith — not in their conversion to Judaism in order to join the Torah covenant. Rav Shaul strongly discouraged gentiles from converting, suggesting that doing so wrongly could be detrimental to their faith. Thus we must understand the difference between joining Israel (which, done properly, does place one onto the faith-tree) and merely being grafted into the tree of faith as a non-Jew in proximity to Israel. Therefore, gentile faith does not graft them into Israel, but only into the olive-tree that metaphorically represents the entire faith community comprising both Israel and the associated gentiles who have expressed faith in HaShem and thus become “fellow travelers” (i.e., “sojourners”, “gerim”).

  4. Actually, your definition of the tree we Gentiles are grafted into is very helpful, PL. It also helps in understanding how both natural and foreign branches can be removed due to lack of faith and then put back on through faithfulness. Faith then, and not ethnicity in this case, is the “glue” that attaches all branches to the “ekklesia tree”. This doesn’t change the fact that the natural branches are also covenant members whilst the foreign branches are not, factoring ethnicity or nationality back into the picture. We Gentiles benefit from the blessings of the New Covenant (entry into the Kingdom of Heaven, indwelling of the Holy Spirit, etc…) through the faith that grafts us in.

  5. We Messianic Gentiles are wild sheep, and not of the cultivated flock as those who issue from Abraham by blood, or adoption, yet we hear the voice of their Shepherd, and we draw as near as we can to that Voice of safety and peace because we can hear Him, even when those of His own flock seem very hard of hearing, and are getting a little lost.

    As in all animals, there is an order of rank amongst the herd. The Shepherd has warned us not to seek to take a place closely cuddled up to Him, but to let others go before us until we are called. He has told us to make sure that the little ones and the aged and the sick of the flock that precede us in honour get the choice herbs that by our boisterous strength we might wrest from them. We wild ones must not press the more delicate and favoured breed aside at the watering holes, nor trample them in our eagerness to get to newer, fresher pastures simply because we can. Indeed, we are to nourish their little ones with our own milk as they have need of it, and to help with our bulk to warm them when the wind blows, and in our strength, patrol the edges of the pastures against a wandering wolf or lion, keeping our eyes on the Shepherd.

    We are a ragged collection of black and brown and stippled, and spotted coats in comparison with their inherited silky white fleeces, but when we are shorn, our wool will be as warm to the Shepherd. It is true that the favoured ewes and lambs have known pedigrees and many are cultivated where we are rough, and ill-mannered, butting heads with those rams that are from the original flock, yet none the less we are sheep, and welcome to the Shepherd simply because we hear His voice, and seek Him.

  6. Nice try, “Q”, but a tad lopsided — neglecting that the so-called favored sheep are not higher in rank, but in responsibility. They pay their freight, so to speak, in what they can and do give back to the flock, regardless of whether the remaining sheep recognize or appreciate it. And they are first to be selected by the predatory slaughterer, if he is not prevented from reaching them. Envy not the supposedly-favored sheep. The Shepherd is known to reward those who bless them.

  7. PL, I think that’s a point that people advocating for Hebrew Roots/One Law miss. They speak of Torah observance as a “right” but it’s more of a heightened obligation to God and to the world, and as you say, it also makes the Jewish people the default target for persecution.

  8. @PL, I think your understanding of Paul’s Olive Tree analogy is missing an important link and that is, the cultivated tree, naturally belongs to Jews. What naturally belongs to Jews, that does not naturally belong to gentiles?

    @James, From a One Law perpsective, Torah observance is an obligation in obedience to God. Not a right, it is mandatory. If we are not a target, we probably are not in the enemies way, thus not obeying God, gentiles who have stood up for God’s ways throughout history and the Jewish people have also been targets.

  9. Actually Zion, I was thinking of Peter when I wrote that since he’s repeatedly stated on his blog that mandatory Torah observance is the “right” of everyone and not the exclusive possession of the Jewish people.

  10. @ProclaimLiberty

    Anyone who raises sheep knows that the portion of the herd that gets the best herbage also gives richer milk, particularly those ewes that are bred to produce rich milk. When the Shepherd leads the delicate and cultivated members of the herd to the greenest grass, and the best clover, He knows what He is doing. However, sheep do not carry responsibility well…it is why they need a Shepherd.

  11. @Zion — You asked what about the cultivated tree is naturally the province of Jews and not of gentiles. I would answer that it is the very form or process of the cultivation, which was the Torah that was made a Jewish responsibility by means of the Sinai covenant and re-iterated in Jeremiah’s statement of the new covenant. The Torah’s cultivation of faith was thus deemed “natural” for Jews and an acquired taste for non-Jews as they acquired faith. I don’t think this was entirely missing from my description of the olive-tree metaphor as representing the community of faith, though I did not explicitly emphasize the Torah as a “natural” process for developing faith as distinct from a “grafting” process that employed other means to develop faith. Of course, the Acts 15 exemption of non-Jews from any more than minimal or token legal responsibility for Torah-keeping may be considered a reflection of the existence and application of these “other means” for developing faith.

  12. @ProclaimLiberty

    I think trying to make the tree about faith, does not work. Simply for the fact that faith existed prior to Israel. The idea of Jews naturally belonging to the tree speaks more towards Israel’s covenant relationship with God, than it does with faith. Paul clearly sees gentiles as coming into this relationship through faith, however the tree does not represent faith in my opinion. I think when we properly interpret what it means that this tree naturally belongs to Jews and does not naturally belong to gentiles, we get a better understanding of gentile relationship. I know you will more than likely disagree, but at least it gives a different perspective.

  13. Shavua Tov, Zion — I wasn’t making the tree about faith; I was asserting that the tree represents a community of faith-filled people who trust in HaShem. I concede your recognition of the relatively few who exercised such faith prior to the giving of Torah, but I don’t think Rav Shaul was trying to stretch his metaphor across the full span of time. It seems to me that he was focused more immediately on the folks currently living and producing the fruit of faith from the rich nourishment coming from the root in what must be considered Jewish soil, since the promises really begin with Avraham and the cultivation process that characterized the tree was by means of Torah.

  14. I think Paul wanted to get across that while being a Jew is something great, no one should have to be a Jew in order to reject false gods [or in order to trust in Ha Shem] and in order to live life differently from the Empire’s values; because that would be (and was) rendering, unto Caesar, too much (the whole rest of creation other than Jews). So even though there was some kind of understanding as to who the Empire would exempt from certain Roman standards, an understanding that was a bit precarious to maintain — and highly valued in the midst of this powerful [Roman] force in present circumstances — thus held to with vigor by enforcers who weren’t seeking to provide exemptions too often, Paul insisted there had to be a HIGHER “understanding” to not simply maintain but to pursue… and to sustain with mutual respect and comradery amongst all who reject the multitude of gods and instead hold to the God most notably portrayed to the world through Jews.

    To grasp greater insight as to what was being rejected, I recommend a book I learned of through Mark Nanos’ recommendations — Galatians Re-imagined, by Brigitte Kahl. (Of course, I also recommend the ongoing writings of Mark Nanos [see marknanos.com].)

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