Tag Archives: blessings

Blessing God in a Dark World

Why are we also in danger every hour? I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.

1 Corinthians 15:30-32 (NASB)

It would be less frustrating if the Almighty’s face weren’t hidden. Everything would be clear and our decisions easy. We’d certainly sleep better at night. But that’s not our challenge, that’s not our opportunity for growth.

We need to rouse ourselves now, to move forward with faith and optimism, recognizing that even though He may be hidden, it’s all in His hands. And on Purim, we can take a small drink (emphasis on small), just to help ease our anxieties and inhibitions and clear the path to this recognition.

We pray that this be the year where the whole Jewish people comes to recognize the Almighty’s presence and where the mask of darkness is removed from our world.

-Emuna Braverman
“When God Hides His Face”
Aish.com

I was recently challenged to do the following:

James..there’s a lot you could write to us about glorifying G-d with all our soul/nephesh (Kiddush Hashem) in life now and in the face of death.

terrorism in nice
Credit: VALERY HACHE/AFP/Getty Images

That’s no small request, especially since I don’t always know how to glorify God when my soul feels like it’s been run over by a tank.

The world’s a pretty horrible place. The most recent atrocity is the terrorist attack in Nice, France, and particularly how Europe is treating a terrorist attack against non-Jews vs. how it normally responds when Palestinian Arabs murder Israeli Jews.

As I said in my previous blog post, I get tired. I get tired of all the woe and grief in the world. I get tired of arguing with the religious pundits. I get tired of arguing with the social justice warriors (SJW), particularly the religious ones.

I want to go back to bed and pull the covers up over my eyes.

But that’s hardly blessing God in the face of adversity, in the face of a faithless and morally corrupt world, in the face of all the bad things and then the worse things that are going to happen between now and the return of Messiah.

I think a common problem, as least as I understand it, in blessing God during adversity is that we aren’t always focused on God, we’re focused on the adversity.

OK, to be fair, when someone steps on your toes, it hurts and you yell “Ouch!” Pretty hard not to pay attention to the pain.

But after the momentary “ouch,” and once we regain our composure, we can rededicate our focus on God once more.

Of course, it’s easier to do that if our focus on God was there before the “ouch”.

That’s right. The secret to focusing on God while under duress is to focus on God before trouble begins and to make it a habit.

That’s one of the things I like about observant Judaism. There’s a blessing and a ritual for everything. I know many Christians see that as a straight-jacket, but it can also be very organizing. If you develop a discipline of praying to God and blessing Him at regular and specific times of day, chances are God will be a lot nearer at hand when the world blows up in your face than if you were just praying to God whenever you felt like it (which for many Christians, usually means praying whenever you want something or when you feel an “ouch”).

Although the majority of Jews living in Israel are secular, there is something about the Jews in the Holy Land. Whether they choose to acknowledge it or not, God is particularly close to Jews in Israel, Jews who have returned to the Land in response to prophesy.

Like Paul, we have our hope in the resurrection, but like Paul, we should always be aware of the nearness of trouble, pain, and death. If we lose our hope in God, we’ve lost everything, so indeed, let us “party hardy,” because nothing really matters in the long run. We might as well be wasting our time playing Pokémon Go, because life and death, faith and God don’t mean anything.

I previously said that in response to an SJW, the most important thing to me was playing with my grandchildren, celebrating life rather than wallowing in oppression, victimhood, and sorrow.

prayers in the darkHowever, that’s just one small expression of what’s really, really important. Drawing nearer to God. If we start doing that now and do it everyday, we will already be closer to God when trouble comes. If we wait until trouble and pain comes, it may become too hard to focus our attention on Him, especially if we’re yelling “Ouch!” all the time.

In principle, it’s not that hard. Read the Bible every day. Set aside fixed times of prayer. Perform some sort of devotional on a daily basis. Be aware of opportunities to do good in your community every day and perform at least one mitzvah (commandment) each day, always with an awareness of the God who is over your head.

Is it easy?

No. If it were, we’d all do it. If it were, I probably wouldn’t complain so often and give in to bad impulses to engage intractable people on social media.

Oh, and I did another minor Facebook “purge” this morning, just for the sake of my peace of mind. I like being exposed to a variety of opinions, but I draw the line at hostility and self-righteousness.

If we wake up being thankful to God for our lives and go to sleep asking for His protection, and if we regularly “touch base” with Him during the day, on the day of woe, He will already be our old companion.

The opinions of men, their transitory social imperatives, their fluid and relative morality, this is like sand on the beach, there one day and washed back out into the ocean the next. Only God is our rock and our deliverer, both from the world and from the darkest parts of our own souls.

If I were better at this, I’m sure my soul wouldn’t have such large dark parts. But the arm of God is not too short to save, even someone like me.

The Blessings of Living in Israel are for the Jews

The Jewish people, the Almighty, the Torah and Eretz Yisroel (The Land of Israel). For more than 3,300 years we’ve been bound together. Did you ever wonder what the Sages taught us about how special is the Land of Israel? Here is a compilation from The Mitzvah to Live in Eretz Israel:

“There is no love like the love for the Land of Israel” — Bamidbar Rabba 23:7.

“There is no Torah like the Torah of the Land of Israel” — Bereshit Rabba 16,7.

“The air of the Land of Israel makes one wise” — Talmud, Bava Batra 158b.

“There are 10 portions of Torah in the world: 9 in the Land of Israel and 1 in the rest of the world” — Esther Rabba 1.

“If you desire to see the Shechina (Divine Presence) in this world, study Torah in the Land of Israel” — Midrash Tehillim 105.

“Living in the Land of Israel is the equivalent to all the mitzvot (commandments) in the Torah” — Sifrei, Parshat Re’eh, Tosefta Avoda Zara 5).

The Ramban, Nachmanides, writes that “We are commanded to take possession of the Land God gave to our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya’akov (Abraham, Isaac and Jacob). We must not leave it to others or in desolation, as God told them, ‘And you will take possession of the land, for I gave the Land to you to possess and you will settle the Land which I promised to your fathers’ (Deut. 17:14, 26:1).”

Israel is far more than just a country or a refuge for the Jewish people — it is an integral part of our spiritual destiny!

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
Shabbat Shalom Weekly commentary for Torah Portion Bo (Exodus 10:1-13:16)
Aish.com

It’s quite clear Rabbi Packouz is addressing a Jewish audience. After all, what other people have ever been commanded to take possession of and live in the Land of Israel? Only the Jews, the modern descendants of the ancient Hebrews, the Israelites who wandered the desert for forty years prior to coming into their inheritance.

But I know more than a few non-Jewish Talmidei Yeshua who are envious and also desire the blessings listed above (I only quoted part of Rabbi Packouz’s article, so please click the link I provided above to read the full write-up).

I suppose we should be a little envious. After all there are tremendous blessings accorded the Jewish people for living in Israel that cannot be apprehended by anyone who isn’t Jewish. Further, except for maybe some exceptional cases, in Messianic Days, Israel will be filled with all or most of the world’s Jewish population. Imagine the prophesies finally being fulfilled.

“For I am the Lord your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior;
I have given Egypt as your ransom,
Cush and Seba in your place.
“Since you are precious in My sight,
Since you are honored and I love you,
I will give other men in your place and other peoples in exchange for your life.
“Do not fear, for I am with you;
I will bring your offspring from the east,
And gather you from the west.
“I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’
And to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’
Bring My sons from afar
And My daughters from the ends of the earth,
Everyone who is called by My name,
And whom I have created for My glory,
Whom I have formed, even whom I have made.”

Isaiah 43:3-7 (NASB)

MessiahAccording to Judaism 101:

The mashiach will bring about the political and spiritual redemption of the Jewish people by bringing us back to Israel and restoring Jerusalem (Isaiah 11:11-12; Jeremiah 23:8; 30:3; Hosea 3:4-5). He will establish a government in Israel that will be the center of all world government, both for Jews and gentiles (Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:10; 42:1). He will rebuild the Temple and re-establish its worship (Jeremiah 33:18). He will restore the religious court system of Israel and establish Jewish law as the law of the land (Jeremiah 33:15).

All of this is part of the Jewish argument that Jesus (Yeshua) couldn’t possibly be the Messiah because during his earthly life in the late Second Temple period, he did none of these things and then he died.

Christians believe that he was resurrected, ascended into Heaven, is our High Priest in the Heavenly Court, and in due time, will return.

Most Christians don’t believe Jesus will politically and spiritually redeem the Jewish people upon his return, although they probably would agree that if Jews converted to Christianity, they would receive spiritual redemption (I don’t think the Church would go for the idea of Israel being an actual political entity under Jesus, let alone the Kingdom that would rule all the other nations of the world, even though the Bible states this).

I know a lot of Christians who would vehemently oppose any idea that Jesus would rebuild the Temple and re-establish the Levitical priesthood and sacrifices, let alone restore the Sanhedrin court system.

But if we set aside Christianity’s traditions as they steer the Church’s doctrinal teachings, and if we accept the fact that non-Jews do not have a portion in the Land of Israel, just what do we Goyim have as far as Israel goes?

Thus says the Lord God,

“Behold, I will lift up My hand to the nations
And set up My standard to the peoples;
And they will bring your sons in their bosom,
And your daughters will be carried on their shoulders.
“Kings will be your guardians,
And their princesses your nurses.
They will bow down to you with their faces to the earth
And lick the dust of your feet;
And you will know that I am the Lord;
Those who hopefully wait for Me will not be put to shame.”

Isaiah 49:22-23

“Arise, shine; for your light has come,
And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.
“For behold, darkness will cover the earth
And deep darkness the peoples;
But the Lord will rise upon you
And His glory will appear upon you.
“Nations will come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising.
“Lift up your eyes round about and see;
They all gather together, they come to you.
Your sons will come from afar,
And your daughters will be carried in the arms.

Isaiah 60:1-4

New arrivals at Ben Gurion airport
New arrivals at Ben Gurion airport

It seems our job is to facilitate the return of the Jewish people to Israel, to not just “surrender” them from our lands, but to take an active part in the Messiah’s mission to return each and every Jewish man, woman, and child to the bosom of their nation Israel, for the Jews are the nation of Israel. I’ve tried looking for information regarding what, if any, inheritance Gentiles may expect regarding Israel, but there’s nothing clearcut.

But something called ElijahNet.net suggests that the Gentiles who join themselves to Israel will indeed have a portion:

Will the Gentiles who have joined themselves to the Lord be separate from His people? The God of Israel says, “No. They will be part of My household, My family.” Will the Gentiles who join themselves to the Lord be excluded from the holy place and service of the Lord? God says, “No. They will worship Me in My house, along with those of the dispersed of Israel whom I have gathered. They will be gathered to the remnant of Israel.”

“In the last days, the mountain of the house of the Lord will be established as the chief of the mountains, and will be raised above the hills: and all the goyim will stream to it. And many peoples will come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; that He may teach us concerning His ways, and that we may walk in His paths, for the law [Torah] will go forth from Zion, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.’ And He will judge between the goyim, and will render decisions for many peoples; and they will hammer their swords into plowshares, nation will not lift up sword against nation, and never again will they learn war.” (Is. 2:2-3, Mic. 4:1-3)

God gave Ezekiel visions of a time to come when living, healing water would flow out of Jerusalem. (Ezek. 47:1-12) The Lord told Ezekiel that the alien in the midst of Israel will be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. (Ezek. 47:21-23)

I should point out that from a Jewish point of view, Ezekiel 47:21-23 isn’t about giving Gentiles part of the Land of Israel.

A more apparently Christian source has this to say:

Question: Are we as “gentile Christians” part of Israel (Rom 11:17)? Do any of the promises made to Israel as a nation apply to us, for example Deuteronomy 28 (I’ve often heard this one used by prosperity teachers although they never read past the fourteenth verse).

Answer (in part): Regarding your first question, I would say that “no” we are not “part of Israel” as gentile Christians. Both Jewish and Gentile Christians today make up the “Church” the “body of Christ” or “one new man” which Paul discusses in Ephesians 2. We, as Gentiles, were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise (Eph. 2:12), but now we have been brought near through Christ. But notice that we are not said to be “part of Israel” or a “new Israel.” Instead, both Jews and Gentiles are said to be joined into a new spiritual body, the one new man (Eph. 2:15). Another evidence that we are not “part of Israel” is found by carefully examining Paul’s use of the term “Israel” in Romans 9-11, and especially chapter 11. There, it will be found that “Israel” still refers to Jews.

Regarding your second question, “Do any of the promises made to Israel as a nation apply to us, for example Deuteronomy 28 . . .”

Moses at SinaiWhile there are principles in Deu. 28 which apply in general (e.g., God will bless a nation which is devoted to Him and follows His will, He will turn away from a nation—such as ours—which forsakes Him), the context of the passage is very clearly specific to the nation Israel. It includes curses which make absolutely no sense when applied to Gentiles (believers or otherwise). For example, the promise of worldwide scattering in judgment of disbelief: yet Gentiles (non-Jews) have always been scattered all over the world.

Whereas all scripture is written for our learning (Rom. 15:4), it is not all written specifically to us—and this is the case in Deuteronomy 28. Both the blessings and curses stated there apply to Israel, as the phrase “wandering Jew” and history abundantly prove.

Concerning the blessings which come to believing Gentiles, this is best understood by studying the relationship between the New Covenant (given to Israel in Jeremiah 31) and the Church.

Of course, there are a seemingly endless collection of Jewish and Christian information sources on the web, so this is only a very tiny sampling.

I couldn’t find anything at AskNoah.org about what sort of connection there could possibly be between a righteous Gentile and the Land of Israel.

I did find something on their view of the New Covenant in Jeremiah 31, as well as whether or not Noahides will worship at the Third Temple. From the latter article:

Gentiles were welcomed to bring their sacrificial offerings for G-d to the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem, and they will participate even more at the Third Temple – especially during the festival of Sukkot (Zechariah 14:16).

Also…

In his commentary on the Torah section beginning with Genesis 12:1, Ramban (Nachmanides) wrote:

“Even in the time of Joshua, … the Gentiles knew that this place was the most august of all, that it was at the center of the inhabited world; and [Torah] Tradition had taught them that it corresponds in this world to the celestial Temple where Divine Majesty, called (righteousness), resides.”

And…

When the First Temple was inaugurated by King Solomon, he beseeched G-d with an eloquent prayer that included the following words (Kings I, 8:41-43) (which show that in the past, Gentiles were welcomed to the First and Second Temples, and that they will participate even more in the Third Temple)…

And finally, the article quotes from Isaiah 2:2-3 regarding the participation of Gentiles in the Temple:

“And it will come to pass at the end of days that the mountain of G-d’s House will be firmly established, even higher than the peaks, and all the peoples will flow toward it as a river. And many nations will go and will cry, ‘Let us go up toward the mountain of G-d’s House, to the House of the L-rd of Jacob, and we will learn from His ways and walk in His paths, for out of Zion goes forth Torah and the word of G-d from Jerusalem.’ “

Of course, participation in the Temple rites is not the same as having any portion in the Land. Isaiah 56 aside, I can’t find a legitimate Jewish commentary saying that any Gentiles will have a permanent home in the Land of Israel at all. It seems that we can certainly visit, and if intermarried, the Gentile would probably live in Israel with the Jewish spouse, but that’s about it.

christian-tourists-in-israel
Christian tourists in Israel

Is that such a bad thing? I know some people who operate in the Hebrew Roots space who most likely would think so. I think some of those non-Jews somehow believe they have “rights” not only to the Land of Israel, but to the Torah mitzvot as well. It’s been a long-standing argument. The relationship between Gentiles and the Land of Israel is probably something like how Jews traditionally accept Gentiles visiting the synagogue:

Non-Jews are always welcome to attend services in a synagogue, so long as they behave as proper guests. Proselytizing and “witnessing” to the congregation are not proper guest behavior.

When going to a synagogue, you should dress as you would for church: nicely, formally, and modestly. A man should wear a yarmulke (skullcap) if Jewish men in the congregation do so; yarmulkes are available at the entrance for those who do not have one. In some synagogues, married women should also wear a head covering. A piece of lace sometimes called a “chapel hat” is generally provided for this purpose in synagogues where this is required. Non-Jews should not, however, wear a tallit (prayer shawl) or tefillin, because these items are signs of our obligation to observe Jewish law.

During services, non-Jews can follow along with the English, which is normally printed side-by-side with the Hebrew in the prayerbook. You may join in with as much or as little of the prayer service as you feel comfortable participating in. You may wish to review Jewish Liturgy before attending the service, to gain a better understanding of what is going on.

Non-Jews should stand whenever the Ark is open and when the Torah is carried to or from the Ark, as a sign of respect for the Torah and for G-d. At any other time where worshippers stand, non-Jews may stand or sit.

When we non-Jews are in Israel, we are guests and we are expected to treat our hosts with proper respect, just as if we were visiting someone else’s house. You wouldn’t go into someone else’s home and act as if you lived there, would you?

In Rabbi Moshe Weiner’s Passover message to all Noahides, he states:

One of the wonders of the future redemption is the revelation of the Divine light that will shine onto the whole world, to all humanity (Isaiah 60:3). From the power of this light, all people will recognize the true existence of the Master of the world, Who fills the whole world, as stated by the prophet Isaiah (52:8-10): “with their own eyes they will see that G-d returns to Zion. Burst out, sing glad song in unison, O ruins of Jerusalem together, for G-d will have comforted His people; He will have redeemed Jerusalem. G-d has bared His holy arm before the eyes of all the nations; all ends of the earth will see the salvation of our G-d.”

Just as Moses our teacher at Mount Sinai began to repair the world, including all the Children of Noah by giving the Seven Commandments that were commanded to them, so too, the Messiah will teach and show the world (but in a more wondrous manner) the same recognition in the truth of the Creator of the universe which began to be revealed by Moses.

It is a great merit for each and every one of us to bring himself and his community to the faith and anticipation of this future freedom for the whole world. This will be freedom from evil and falsehood, and a redemption by which we will merit to go out from darkness to a great and true light.

Toward the lightCertainly it seems, the righteous Gentiles are included in many of the blessings of Messiah and that both Jew and Gentile will “go out from darkness to a great and true light.”

But that’s as far as I can understand it. All of those blessings Rabbi Packouz mentions that are received by those living in the Land of Israel are only received by the Jews living in the Land of Israel. For the Gentiles, not so much.

I can only imagine that Gentiles are still blessed in some manner when they/we visit Israel, but we’re visitors and guests, not residents. We may be associated with Israel as citizens of the vassal nations, subservient to our King, and we may have been brought near to her (see Ephesians 2:13) so that there is to be peace between Israel and we people of the nations (although I suspect that peace won’t be truly realized until the Messiah establishes his reign as King in Israel over the world), but none of that means that we are Israel, nor that we have rights to any of her real estate (at least as far as I can discover).

I guess in the resurrection, just like right now, I’ll have to be satisfied with my own little corner of Idaho.

My (Jewish) wife did surprise me again the other day. Out of a proverbial “clear blue sky,” she asked me if I’d given up on any plans to visit Israel. I didn’t know what to say. One circumstance or the other has gotten in the way and I haven’t even been thinking of it lately. I also am concerned about expenses for a number of complicated (and private) reasons, so thought maybe my long-suffering wife would appreciate it if I didn’t spend thousands of dollars playing tourist in the middle east.

I don’t know.

Blogger Ro Pinto wrote multiple blog posts about her recent trip to Israel including this summary, and it is abundantly obvious that she has a tremendous love of and devotion to the God of Israel, His people, and their Land. Some of her spiritual insights border on spectacular, which is a realm that has always eluded me.

Compared to how she related to Israel during her trip, I can’t imagine achieving anywhere near such experiences and insights. I think a visit to Israel is supposed to be as much about what you bring to the table spiritually as what you expect to receive.

Visiting Israel as a Gentile is not like traveling to any other nation on Earth. Jerusalem is the only city on the planet where God has put His Holy Name. Every time I seriously think of traveling to the Holy Land, I feel humbled and chagrined. Who am I compared the men and women of the Bible who trod that ancient Land, the Prophets, the Kings, the warriors, the scholars?

Every time I read or hear from some non-Jewish person who lays claim to Israel or the Torah, I’m astonished at the “Obama-like” audacity they exhibit. The feeling of being able to do anything you want, regardless of the (in this case Biblical) Law, without so much as a “by your leave”. You can’t bypass the God of Israel with a pen and a phone.

Who among the Gentile Talmidei Yeshua hasn’t felt the call of Israel at one point of another in our lives? Who hasn’t, at some time in our existence, wanted to bathe in the glow of the blessings Rabbi Packouz outlined in his “Shabbat Shalom Weekly” article?

Up to JerusalemBut it’s like being a kid and watching the boy or girl next door receive a shiny new bicycle for their birthday. Just because you want to ride on that bike too, doesn’t mean it belongs to you.

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.

The Jesus Covenant, Part 8: Abraham, Jews, and Christians

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Genesis 12:1-3 (ESV)

To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ.

Galatians 3:15-16 (ESV)

For the past several installments of this series including Part 7, I’ve been focusing on aspects of the New Covenant, mainly because the little bits and pieces that relate to Christianity can only be tracked down in different parts of the New Testament. However, recent conversations have shown me that I should probably return to the foundation of my understanding for a bit to illustrate its solidity, or at least describe the trail of reasoning that I’m pursuing.

As you have probably guessed, it all goes back to Abraham and the covenant God announced to him in Genesis 12. But what exactly did God promise Abraham and what does it have to do with us, that is, with Christians?

Here’s my understanding:

  1. Genesis 12:1-3 – God promises to make Abraham into great nation, bless those who bless him and curse those who curse him, and all peoples on earth would be blessed through Abraham.
  2. Genesis 15:18–21 – God promises to give Abraham’s descendants all the land from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates, and this area is later referred to as the Promised Land or the Land of Israel.
  3. Genesis 17:2–9 – God promises to make Abraham a father of many nations and of many descendants and the land of Canaan as well as other parts of Middle East will go to his descendants.
  4. Genesis 17:9-14 – God declares that circumcision is to be the sign of the covenant for Abraham and all his male descendants and that this will be an eternal covenant.

This covenant is then reaffirmed to Isaac in Genesis 21:12, and again reaffirmed to Jacob in Genesis 26:3-4. (the New Covenant as recorded in Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36 affirms and expands upon this and the Mosaic covenant) God confirmed that the promise of the covenant is specifically for the descendants of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, the Children of Israel, in many places in the Torah, not the least of which is in Deuteronomy 34:4 (ESV):

And the LORD said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.”

As far as the land of Israel goes, there is no provision in the covenant to give it to anyone or any other people group besides the Children of Israel and their descendants forever, the Jewish people.

That takes care of the Land. But what about us?

We learn from Galatians 3:15-16 which I quoted above, that through Abraham’s seed, through his offspring (singular) we among the nations would be blessed. Paul declares that the offspring in question is specifically the Jewish Messiah, Jesus Christ. Our blessings that issue from the Abrahamic covenant are directly transferred to us through the Messiah.

So far, of the four items in the above-referenced list, only one of them seems to apply to Christians, the blessings of the Messiah.

What else do we know about the Messianic blessings in the Abrahamic covenant?

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. –Romans 4:9-12 (ESV)

We see that it was Abraham’s faith that was counted to him as righteousness, and this was before the sign of the covenant was placed upon Abraham. We too, the “uncircumcised” of the nations, are called “righteous” because of our faith. Thus Abraham Avinu is our father, according to Paul, not just the father of the Hebrews. No, that doesn’t mean we are Hebrew (Jewish) too, nor does it mean we inherit the total body of covenant blessings and responsibilities that are incumbent upon the Jews, but it does make us connected to Abraham as the father of our faith, and through his covenant and the Messiah, with God.

This is kind of a delicate trail to negotiate, and we have to be careful that we don’t slip off the path and fall into erroneous thinking. The promise of the Land, and I believe the other specific promises, including the covenantal sign of circumcision, are for the physical descendants of Abraham and of Isaac, and of Jacob. That’s not the rest of us. That’s just the Jewish people.

In other words, all of the conditions of the Abrahamic covenant, including the blessings of the Messiah, flow to the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The single blessing that we can be attached to through the Messiah is attached to Abraham alone, as he was before his circumcision, as he was before Isaac; a man of faith and righteousness before God.

That’s the split, the demarcation line between Christian and Jew, the slender thread of “covenanthood” by which we Gentile Christians are connected to Abraham, the Abrahamic covenant, and thus, to God.

So what do we get out of it? Well, first of all, a cautionary tale:

But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off. And even they, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you were cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these, the natural branches, be grafted back into their own olive tree.

Romans 11:17-24 (ESV)

Paul seems to be toggling back and forth between addressing the Jewish believers and the Gentile believers. “You wild olive branches, you Gentiles,” Paul is saying. “Don’t get cocky just because you were grafted in. Remember, it’s the root that nourishes you, not the other way around. You think you are so hot just because a few Jews were knocked off the root to make room for you Gentiles? So what,” he might be saying. “If you fall away from the kindness of the Messiah, you can be knocked off and the Jews can be put back twice as fast!”

So to the Jews, don’t be arrogant to the Gentiles because they’re “newbies.” To the Gentiles, don’t be arrogant because some Jews were removed from the root to which you are now attached. Nothing is necessarily permanent. Anyone can be “ungrafted.”

That’s a terrific lesson for many non-Jewish believers to learn because, through one process or another, we have come to feel superior to the Jewish people who God, in the end, will reattach to the root, all of them. Remember, any of you out there who are not physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, (apart from legitimate converts to Judaism) don’t get cocky. God not only didn’t get rid of the Jews, it is through them that your salvation and covenant connection to God is established and nourished in the first place.

And for those of you who feel that being “grafted in” has whitewashed any physical and covenant distinctions between you and the “natural branches,” think again:

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written,

“That you may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.”

But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

Romans 3:1-8 (ESV)

Being Jewish is not beside the point just because we Gentiles have been grafted in. There remains much advantage to being Jewish. Even those Jews today who do not acknowledge Christ as Messiah are not permanently condemned as many Christians seem to believe. They are not discarded and cast aside.

Israel will be saved:

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers:a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”; “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.”

As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.

Romans 11:25-29 (ESV)

I’ve probably wandered from the strictly Abrahamic path, but with good purpose. The purpose is to illustrate that just because Jews and Christians share the Messianic blessings that are part of the wider Abrahamic covenant through faith, that does not mean we share all of the blessings attached to that covenant. Paul was extremely clear that there is a distinction between Jewish (native) and Gentile (wild) olive branches. They all didn’t “morph” into a single type of branch with no way to tell them apart.

Also, Paul was extremely clear that there were many advantages to being a Jew. Further, he said that even if some of the Jews were temporarily removed from the root for the sake of we Gentile Christians, in the end, God’s promises to the Jewish people are irrevocable; they cannot be revoked!

The really interesting thing about all of this is that a Christian must choose to become part of the covenant with God through Jesus and Christians can also “unchoose” Christianity for another religion or no religion at all. Not so with the Jewish people. If you are born a Jew, you are automatically born into the covenant (actually covenants, but I’m only talking about Abraham for the moment). God has temporarily turned His face away from His people Israel in the past, and He has temporarily exiled them in the past, but as “temporarily” implies, He always takes them back and He always will take them back.

In spite of the fact that this missive is longer than I intended, I didn’t get to say everything I could have said about Christianity and the Abrahamic covenant. Hopefully, I’ve said enough for now.

The Jesus Covenant, Part 5: Blessings and Consequences

I had a strange dream last night (actually, several nights ago as I write this). Actually, I had a number of strange dreams (but then again, all of my dreams are strange). What was really unusual about this particular dream though, is that I was composing this “meditation” in the dream. You know when something has captured your attention when you start having dreams about it.

More specifically, I was pondering the covenant relationships involved in the “Jesus Covenant,” or what binds we Christians to God, and what attaches the Jewish people to the Creator. As you know, by the end of Part 4 in this series, I still hadn’t figured out how or if the New Covenant we see prominently mentioned in Jeremiah 31 or Ezekiel 36 has any sort of blessings for the non-Jewish people of the world. Since then, I’ve gotten some feedback saying, in part, that it is exceptionally difficult for “virtually all individuals to adequately grasp a topic so profound (and yet so intricate) that it has engaged believers, including scholars, on the deepest levels for two thousand years.” That was a different wake up call than I expected. However, I wrote the bulk of this blog post before Part 4 was ever published so, as you read this, please keep that in mind.

Now to continue with the original missive:

As I’m writing this, I still haven’t received any illumination from God or any response but the knowledgable people I’m associated with, so I guess I’ll wait a bit longer before calling it a wash.

But I dreamed something last night.

I dreamed about this.

Moses and the elders of Israel charged the people, saying: Observe all the Instruction that I enjoin upon you this day. As soon as you have crossed the Jordan into the land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall set up large stones. Coat them with plaster and inscribe upon them all the words of this Teaching. When you cross over to enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the Lord, the God of your fathers, promised you — upon crossing the Jordan, you shall set up these stones, about which I charge you this day, on Mount Ebal, and coat them with plaster. There, too, you shall build an altar to the Lord your God, an altar of stones. Do not wield an iron tool over them; you must build the altar of the Lord your God of unhewn stones. You shall offer on it burnt offerings to the Lord your God, and you shall sacrifice there offerings of well-being and eat them, rejoicing before the Lord your God. And on those stones you shall inscribe every word of this Teaching most distinctly.

Moses and the levitical priests spoke to all Israel, saying: Silence! Hear, O Israel! Today you have become the people of the Lord your God: Heed the Lord your God and observe His commandments and His laws, which I enjoin upon you this day.

Thereupon Moses charged the people, saying: After you have crossed the Jordan, the following shall stand on Mount Gerizim when the blessing for the people is spoken: Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Joseph, and Benjamin. And for the curse, the following shall stand on Mount Ebal: Reuben, Gad, Asher, Zebulun, Dan, and Naphthali. –Deuteronomy 27:1-13 (JPS Tanakh)

No, I didn’t dream about the actual scene being described above, but I could see blocks of paragraphs on my blog that I knew where talking about the blessings and the curses. The rest of Chapter 27 and part of Chapter 28 describes the specifics of what was cried out between Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim, in case you want to read about the details.

But that’s not all I dreamed.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” –Matthew 25:31-46 (ESV)

TranscendentPart of what I believe about The Jesus Covenant is that it doesn’t exist as a discrete and stand-alone element (which I discovered only recently, much to my surprise). It is derived from blessings included in the Abrahamic and arguably the New Covenant, but the actual people of both covenants are the Jewish people. I further believe that the Sinai or Mosaic covenant, the conditions of which are included in the Torah, possesses no blessings for the nations and thus, does not contribute anything to what binds we Christians to the God of Israel (although even traditional Judaism does believe that certain, limited aspects of Torah coincide with a non-Jew’s responsibilities to God).

The Torah is very specific and detailed in describing the terms of the “agreement” between God and the Jews. But what about us? What about Christianity? What have we agreed to do and what are the consequences of failing our Savior and failing God?

That’s what I dreamed about. I dreamed about the specifics of the consequences, the blessings and the curses, that the Jewish people agreed upon as a condition of the Sinai covenant. I also dreamed about the passage from Matthew 25, and while it isn’t constructed as an agreement as such, we see that Jesus has posed conditions upon us and consequences for accomplishing or failing to accomplish those conditions in our lives.

I guess even when I’m asleep, I’m looking for clues. I’m looking for connections. I’m looking for attachments. Theologically, what I’ve just suggested may be total baloney, but the dream was still with me when I woke up this morning, (again, as I write this) even though I was having a completely different dream when my alarm went off.

So I had to write it; I had to share it by way of an interlude within this series, standing between the mystery of the New Covenant and what I hope will become the solution. My quest now is to get further along in my understanding of the New Covenant, both with the help of God and a few scholarly human beings. As Lennon and McCartney famously wrote, “I’ll get by with a little help from my friends.”

That “little help” has made Part 6 of this series (and more) possible. See you there.

The Jesus Covenant, Part 2: Abraham

What is the intent of a covenant? (See Likkutei Torah, Devarim 44b.) When two people feel a powerful attraction to each other, but realize that with the passage of time, that attraction could wane, they establish a covenant. The covenant maintains their connection even at times when, on a conscious level, there might be reasons for distance and separation.

-Rabbi Eli Touger
“Standing Before G-d”
from the “In the Garden of Torah” series
Commentary on Torah Portion Nitzavim and Rosh Hashanah
Chabad.org

A biblical covenant is an agreement—generally between God and humanity—recorded in the text of the Bible, the common Holy Scriptures of both the Jewish and Christian religions.

-Covenant (biblical)
Wikipedia.org

In Part 1 of “The Jesus Covenant, I started exploring my (mis)understanding of the covenant(s) that attach me, as a Christian, to God. To that end, I accessed some textual and video information produced by Derek Lemen, including his Covenants video (it’s very brief and straightforward, so please give it a look).

In the video, Derek outlines the five covenants that are described in the Old Testament or the Tanakh, three of which are in the Torah or the Five Books of Moses.

  • Noahide
  • Abrahamic
  • Mosaic
  • Davidic
  • New Covenant

Of these five, only the Noahide covenant (see Genesis 9) includes all humanity universally as the people of the covenant. It is God’s promise never to destroy the world again by flooding, and the sign of the covenant is the rainbow. For the other four covenants, the people of each of them is specifically the Jewish people (the specific descendants of the Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob). Of those four, according to Derek, only the Abrahamic and New Covenant contain blessings for the non-Jewish people of the world, although the Davidic covenant, which declares that a descendant of David will always sit on the throne of Israel, has certain Messianic applications.

It is through the blessings of the Abrahamic and New Covenant, that we who call ourselves Christians, are able to enter into a covenant relationship with God through the Messiah and Savior, Jesus Christ.

But from here on in, the path gets a little muddy. Traditional Judaism disagrees with the statement I made in the previous paragraph, and believes that only (or primarily) the Noahide covenant applies to the nations. Traditional Christianity believes that the New Covenant is specific to the church, deletes the previous covenants (except for certain aspects of the Abrahamic covenant), and transfers all the relevant covenant promises from the Jews to all of Christianity, creating new, “spiritual Israel”

I’m going to set aside traditional Judaism’s viewpoint here and focus on Christianity, since after all, I’m a Christian. I’m forced to disagree with the teaching we see in many churches that tells us Christianity has superseded Judaism in the covenants. This is a very old and well accepted belief in the church, but as my long time readers know, I strongly oppose any sort of replacement theology and believe that God did not reject the Jewish people when He allowed His blessings to flow through them in order to touch the Gentile.

So where does that lead us?

It leads us, and I’m continuing to use Derek as my source here, to the understanding that God chooses to bless the Gentiles through Israel without doing away with Israel or fusing the original Israelites with the later occurring Christians, essentially forming a new corporate entity which I’ve previously called “spiritual Israel.” In fact, the concept of “spiritual” vs. “physical” Israel requires more than a little theological and “exegesic slight of hand” to pull off. Also, there’s nothing I can see in the Old Testament prophesies where God comes right out and says to the Children of Israel that they’ll eventually become obsolete, replaced, or watered down by the inclusion of the rest of the world into their ranks. Isn’t Israel always supposed to be a special, unique, and set apart people before God? (see Jeremiah 31:35-37)

I suppose the next step in my quest is to examine the Abrahamic and New Covenants more in detail to try to find where the blessings are for the nations and how that translates into a covenant relationship with God for “the rest of us.”

I found a pretty good summary of the Abrahamic Covenant at GotQuestions.org and looked at the three main features of this covenant. Only one feature directly provides blessings for the nations (the other two apply exclusively to the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob).

The promise of blessing and redemption (Genesis 12:3). God promised to bless Abraham and the families of the earth through him. This promise is amplified in the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31–34; cf. Hebrews 8:6–13) and has to do with “Israel’s spiritual blessing and redemption.” Jeremiah 31:34 anticipates the forgiveness of sin. The unconditional and eternal nature of the covenant is seen in that the covenant is reaffirmed to Isaac (Genesis 21:12; 26:3–4). The “I will” promises suggest the unconditional aspect of the covenant. The covenant is further confirmed to Jacob (Genesis 28:14–15). It is noteworthy that God reaffirmed these promises amid the sins of the patriarchs, which fact further emphasizes the unconditional nature of the Abrahamic Covenant.

More specifically, it is the fulfillment of this feature that most concerns Christianity.

The Abrahamic Covenant finds its ultimate fulfillment in connection with the return of Messiah to rescue and bless His people Israel. It is through the nation Israel that God promised in Genesis 12:1–3 to bless the nations of the world. That ultimate blessing will issue in the forgiveness of sins and Messiah’s glorious kingdom reign on earth.

It should be noted that I reject the idea that the Jewish people will need to “convert to Christianity” and abandon Judaism in order to fulfill the prophesy of Israel’s national repentance and forgiveness as we see in Zechariah 12:10-14 and Romans 11:25-27. There’s no logic in a Jew having to stop being a Jew in order to give honor and devotion to the Jewish Messiah King and to worship the God of Israel.

However, we’ve discovered the blessing that comes to us through the Abrahamic Covenant and the Jewish people that allows our covenant connection to God. The promise of the blessings of Messiah are for the Jewish people and the rest of the nations through faith.

Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? For we say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised. –Romans 4:9-12 (ESV)

The blessing is for the circumcised (Jews) and the uncircumcised (people of the nations) alike and the way to access the blessing is through faith. Non-Jews do not have to take on the sign of the Abrahamic Covenant (circumcision), since that is not a requirement to access this particular blessing. Abraham had faith prior to circumcision and thus it is our faith as well that binds us to God through this blessing. Faith is the medium that connects both Jew and Christian to our Creator, and it is specifically in faith that all people are equal before God.

Thus the ancient Hebrews (circumcised) and their descendants have access to all of the features of the Abrahamic Covenant, while we non-Jewish Christians (uncircumcised) have access to one of the covenant features, which is specific to the blessings for the nations. I suppose I could say a lot more about this, but it seems clear that we Christians are connected by faith to God through this blessing which is the promise of the Messiah, and that promise is realized in the coming of Jesus Christ.

But GotQuestions.org also says that this feature of the Abrahamic Covenant “is amplified in the New Covenant.” That’s where we’ll pick up this discussion in the next part of the series.

In the meantime, feel free to comment, ask questions, and add details to the elementary understanding I’ve presented here. As I keep telling people, I’m not a theologian, Pastor, teacher, expert, or anything else lofty. I’m just a guy; an average Christian (sort of) who is trying to get a better handle on my faith. I don’t think that you have to be an expert or a scholar with a ton of degrees to understand what we believe as Christians and why we believe it. I invite everyone like me, and everyone else, to join me for Part 3 of “The Jesus Covenant.”