Tag Archives: Chosen People

Sanctification Isn’t An Event, It’s A Process (a really, really long process)

intent
Replica of a diagram found in Scott Brown’s “Intentional: A Disciple Making Catalyst” material

As I write this, I can hear the Shabbos tunes my (Jewish) wife is playing on her iPad. Seems appropriate, although quite frankly, neither of us are observing Shabbos in any sense.

Several weeks ago, I attended an all day Saturday workshop at the Lutheran church where I take Mom. It was presented by Scott Brown of Chosen People Ministries. Scott lives in New Zealand and his ministry down there is called Celebrate Messiah. It specializes in evangelizing to the tons and tons of backpackers New Zealand gets every summer (and since it’s south of the equator, it’s actually winter there right now).

Actually, “Celebrate Messiah” specializes in evangelizing Israeli backpackers, of which there seems to be a lot. I told my wife this (and she’s not Christian or Messianic) and she pretty much just sneered. It was the sort of look I’d expect from the Rabbi of our local Chabad or really, a lot of Jewish people, even secular Jews.

But I’m not writing this missive to talk about that.

Notice the drawing above. I did my best to replicate it from the material Scott handed out at the workshop. It was called “Intentional: A Disciple Making Catalyst”. I can’t say I agreed with everything he said, but he made some good points, including the one illustrated in the diagram I’ve posted.

It was the clearest explanation of the “Christianese” terms “justification,” “sanctification,” and “glorification” I’ve ever heard, making the information very accessible to me, and I’ve been a believer for over 20 years.

It was also a great explanation about why I still screw up.

Really, there have been times I’ve been convinced that the Holy Spirit didn’t take up housekeeping inside of me and that I wasn’t actually a Christian. There were times when I considered that maybe the Calvinists were right (they’re not) and that God simply didn’t “choose” me to be saved. If that were the case, nothing I could say, do, or believe would ever reconcile me to God.

Oh, actually this is also a really good explanation as to why King David could commit adultery with a married women, get her pregnant, murder her husband, and then lie about the whole thing until confronted about it by the Prophet Nathan, yet still be considered a “man after God’s own heart.”

But let’s take a look at Scott’s source material first. All Bible quotes are from the NASB translation unless otherwise specified.

Spirit

Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ… –Romans 5:1

For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. –1 Corinthians 12:13

In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise… –Ephesians 1:13

Soul

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus…So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure. –Philippians 2:5, 12, 13

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. –Romans 12:2

Body

Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. –1 Corinthians 15:51-53

For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven… –2 Corinthians 5:1-2

I’m not a big fan of citing short passages of scripture to make theological points, but this is what Scott presented with his diagram.

It explains why we can indeed be “saved,” as traditional Christians say, but still keep “backsliding” into sin.

Before coming to faith, traditional Christianity considers people as slaves to sin. We just can’t help ourselves from sinning if, for no other reason, we don’t know the difference between a sin and being able to please God. We may not be in it just for ourselves, and we may give to charity, be good parents, be kind to small animals, and help our neighbor shovel snow off of his driveway in the winter (I live in Idaho, your mileage may vary), but we are still sinners, isolated from God.

Upon becoming believers, devotees and disciples of Rav Yeshua (Jesus Christ), as the diagram and the scriptures say, we are dead to sin and alive for Christ:

For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin. –Romans 6:5-7

But you did not learn Christ in this way, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught in Him, just as truth is in Jesus, that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth. –Ephesians 4:20-24

Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him—a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. –Colossians 3:9-11

In other words, the person who was a slave to sin was symbolically buried in the tomb with the dead body of Jesus through baptism, and the person who rose out of the tomb/waters with Rav Yeshua is a completely different individual, one who is a slave to our Master and not sin.

Does that mean we can’t sin? Absolutely not. But then why do we sin if we aren’t a slave? Two reasons. The first is that we still have free will and can choose to sin. But then, you’d think it would be a no brainer to choose not to sin. The second reason is that our neurology, our habits, our behavioral patterns are still locked in our brains. If a guy likes to look at porn before he becomes a believer, even after the conversion, he will still tend to be attracted to porn.

In his presentation on people he has discipled, Scott referenced numerous men who had big, big problems surfing porn. I’m not picking on men. I’m sure that women who become believers still have all of that “fleshy” stuff in their behavior patterns as well.

So what to do?

Scott said it’s not just a matter of behavior modification. After all, a secular person can modify their behavior through various means and they’re still secular and in their sins.

For the believer, it seems like a war between their neurological behavior patterns and having the “mind of Christ.”

But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised. But he who is spiritual appraises all things, yet he himself is appraised by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he will instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ. –1 Corinthians 2:14-16

There was one thing Scott didn’t mention, and perhaps it was because he was talking to a roomful of Christians (though a significant minority seemed to be “Messianic” and a few even sung the beginning of the Shema). In his focus on Christ, he forgot about Rav Yeshua’s source material:

Behold, days are coming – the word of Hashem – when I will seal a new covenant with the House of Israel and with the House of Judah; not like the covenant that I sealed with their forefathers on the day that I took hold of their hand to take them out of the land of Egypt, for they abrogated My covenant, although I became their Master – the word of Hashem. For this is the covenant that I shall seal with the House of Israel after those days – the word of Hashem – I will place My Torah within them and I will write it onto their heart; I will be a God for them and they will be a people for Me. They will no longer teach – each man his fellow, each man his brother – saying, “Know Hashem!” For all of them will know Me, from their smallest to their greatest – the word of Hashem – when I will forgive their iniquity and will no longer recall their sin.” –Jeremiah 31:30-33 The Stone Edition Tanakh

I’ve previously written about the New Covenant and the Gentile as well as how Gentiles actually have no formal covenant relationship with God. I know, controversial stuff, right?

The only conclusion I arrived at is that we are adopted in by God, not through any covenant, but by God’s sheer mercy and grace to the human race as a whole, that is, the nations of the world, all who turn to him through our devotion to Rav Yeshua.

But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” –Matthew 28:16-20

But do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like one day. The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance. –2 Peter 8-9

Actually, this wasn’t something God invented with Jesus. It was his plan all along:

Also, a gentile who is not of Your people Israel, but will come from a distant land, for Your Name’s sake – for they will hear of Your great Name and Your strong hand and Your outstretched arm – and will come and pray toward this Temple – may You hear from Heaven, the foundation of Your abode, and act according to all that the gentile calls out to You, so that all the peoples of the world may know Your Name, to fear You as [does] Your people Israel, and to know that Your Name is proclaimed upon this Temple that I have built –1 Kings 8:41-43 The Stone Edition Tanakh

Hashem has reigned: Let peoples tremble; before Him Who is enthroned on Cherubim, let the earth quake. Before Hashem Who is great in Zion and Who is exalted above all peoples. Let them gratefully praise Your great and awesome Name; it is holy! Mighty is the King, Who loves justice. You founded fairness. The justice and righteousness of Jacob, You have made. Exalt Hashem, our God, and bow at His footstool; He is holy! Moses and Aaron were among His priests, and Samuel among those who invoke His Name; they called upon Hashem and He answered them. In a pillar of cloud He spoke to them; they obeyed his testimonies and whatever decree He gave them. Hashem, our God, You answered them. A forgiving God were You because of them, yet an Avenger for their iniquities. Exalt Hashem, our God, and bow at his holy mountain; for holy is Hashem, our God. –Psalm 99 The Stone Edition Tanakh

I am Hashem; I have called you with righteousness; I will strengthen your hand; I will protect you; I will set you for a covenant to the people, for a light to the nations; to open blind eyes; to remove the prisoner from confinement, dwellers in darkness from the dungeon. –Isaiah 42:5-7 The Stone Edition Tanakh

In fact, this last passage is very similar to the haftarah Rav Yeshua read in the Nazareth synagogue (Isaiah 61:1,2 [see Septuagint]; Isaiah 58:6):

And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up; and as was His custom, He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath, and stood up to read. And the book of the prophet Isaiah was handed to Him. And He opened the book and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me,
Because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor.
He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives,
And recovery of sight to the blind,
To set free those who are oppressed,
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.”

And He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him. –Luke 4:16-20

But what’s all that have to do with Scott’s diagram?

I believe that the process of us being sanctified is ongoing. Certainly, we haven’t been glorified yet because Rav Yeshua hasn’t returned and we haven’t gotten our glorious, immortal physical forms yet.

New Covenant times have cracked the door of reality but aren’t actually here. Thus having the “Torah written on our hearts” (I’m not sure how that works for a Gentile given our non-covenant status or the fact that we are not obligated to Torah in the manner of the Jewish people or Israel) is in process but not complete. We are in the long-lasting process of sanctification, which only makes the struggle with our “flesh” more difficult.

Scott was clear on the point that the old man is truly, irrevocably dead. Struggles with sin are not a fight between the old man and the new man (or woman). Our old nature is gone forever, according to Scott, but our old patterns and habits (the flesh) are still present. Being sanctified is ongoing and will continue until the prophesy in Jeremiah 31 is realized. No wonder this stuff is hard.

Still, I take comfort in reading Paul’s letter to the Romans, which I just completed as part of my annual cover-to-cover Bible reading:

Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind set on the flesh is hostile toward God; for it does not subject itself to the law of God, for it is not even able to do so, and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. If Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, yet the spirit is alive because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. –Romans 8:1-11

Actually, the entire chapter encapsulates Scott’s remarks and my renewed understanding.

Bottom line. We have something to shoot for. The struggle with being human, the habits of a lifetime, the difficulties that continually assail us as mere mortals is real, but the goal isn’t just to modify our old behaviors, but to live out the fact that we are in the process of becoming new human beings one day at a time.

There’s hope.

Oh, this is all derived from only part of one page in Scott’s material, so I’ve got plenty of data from which to craft additional more blog posts. This is only the beginning.

And Now For Something Completely Different

If you are a science fiction fan, I invite you to pop over to my other blog “Powered by Robots”. I was recently interviewed by Will Martinez of Dark Fringe Radio about my SciFi short story “The Recall.” I haven’t had the nerve to actually listen to it yet, but anyone who wants to can go for it. Let me know what you think.

EDIT: My wife was listening to this, and I didn’t realize how much I needed to hear it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HVhE7_AUtNI

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If Israel is the Light of the World, What Happens to the Church, Part One?

After the exiles are gathered and Israel’s enemies destroyed, those who are left from the nations will not only dwell peacefully with the nation of Israel, but all peoples will come to recognize the one God of Israel and will serve him. It will be a worldwide revival such as we have never seen before. While it is Messiah’s job to bring this global repentance about, it will be accomplished through the agency of the Jewish people and will come about when they dwell securely within the land. Indeed, this awakening can only happen when the children of Israel are connected with the land of Israel.

-Toby Janicki
“Light to the Nations,” p.43
Messiah Journal issue 118/Winter 2014

I think most Christians would agree that Messiah (Christ) will inaugurate an era of worldwide peace and tranquility upon his return, but they might be puzzled as to what the Jewish people and the land of Israel have to do with it. Isn’t the Church supposed to rule and reign with Jesus? Aren’t the Jews supposed to convert to Christians and effectively eliminate any and all Jewish presence on Earth for the first time since Abraham?

One of the reasons I don’t share a theological perspective with most of my Christian brothers and sisters is because, even though there may be those who recognize that the Jews have “some part” in God’s future plans to redeem the Earth, couldn’t possibly imagine that it is national Israel and the Jewish people, not “the Church,” which is the principal mechanism by which we will all be saved, even as the Master said, “salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22).

However, Toby Janicki in his article makes the argument that the children of Israel was and is God’s chosen people and nation for a very good reason, and that reason stretches all the way back to Sinai.

To fully understand how the Jewish people will bring the nations to the knowledge of HaShem, we need to understand why God singled out and chose Israel in the first place. We need to examine the Jewish people’s role as a light to the nations. This begins with HaShem designating Israel as his chosen people.

-ibid

Toby cites Exodus 19:5-6, Deuteronomy 14:2, Deuteronomy 32:9-10, and Romans 3:1-2 to define and support Israel’s continued election from among the nations. But the “choseness” of Israel has always been a bit of a problem to the rest of us.

In today’s modern society the idea of this kind of election can be troubling. The premonition of God choosing one nation out of all the others does not sit well with our Western sense of egalitarianism. But before jumping to conclusions, we must ask the question, what does it mean that Israel is chosen?

-ibid, p.44

Christianity has attempted to respond to Israel’s chosen status in a couple of ways. The traditional response of the Church was to establish a binding tradition declaring the Christianity and the community of (Gentile) saints as having replaced Israel’s special status with God as an act of Jesus Christ and his death on the cross.

Of course this makes Messiah a traitor to his own people and the nation he loves. Can Yeshua turn away from God’s treasured, splendorous people, HaShem’s Am Segulah (Deuteronomy 14:2), wholly decoupling himself from the Jews, the Jewish land, and his very identity as a Jew, and cleave only to a foreign people, making himself, in essence, a foreign god?

In my opinion, the answer is a resounding “no”.

There is another competing opinion that sadly treats the Jewish people no better. What if Jewish election is meaningless? What if the work of Messiah was simply to take all the Gentiles who become his disciples and make them “Israel” too? That would mean in the Messianic Kingdom, there would only be two people groups, Jewish and non-Jewish Israel, and the unbelieving Gentile nations. Since the former group, by definition, are resurrected and immortal, and the latter group is not, after the latter group dies, only “Israel” made up of Jews and non-Jews remains and there are no nations of the earth. Being Jewish would mean nothing since the Gentiles in “Israel” would be every bit as “chosen” (although much later in the game) as the Jews.

This violates more prophesies than I have room to cite and both of these misguided theories eliminate God’s original choosing of the children of Israel as His chosen people and nation, either by removing that status from the Jews or making to totally meaningless.

It seems people have to rewrite God’s original work to fit their own needs and requirements, more’s the pity.

But if Yeshua is the light of the world (John 8:12), why does he need Israel and the Jewish people to fulfill his mission to be a light to the world? Why does he need anyone at all?

But what if he and Israel are inseparable components within that light?

Toby quotes Rabbi Levi Welton to answer the question he asked above.

In other words, one separates something to do something, not just to be something. So the Jewish people were separated for a purpose, not to carry a higher rank or be a “favorite.” This purpose is to tell the world that they are also “chosen to do good,” as Isaiah says it, “to be a light unto the nations” (Isaiah 49:6).

-ibid

This suggests that the Jewish people had and still has a special mission to bring knowledge of monotheism and the One true God of Creation to the rest of the nations. But how were they supposed to do that, especially since post-Biblical times, most Jews do not acknowledge Yeshua as the Messiah?Up to Jerusalem

According to Toby:

In the minds of the sages the Jewish people’s exile (galut) from the land of Israel was not only punishment for Israel’s sin but also served a redemptive purpose for all mankind?

-ibid, p.46

That’s bound to bend the minds of some Christians since it means that the Jewish people as a whole were still being used by God in post-Biblical times as exiles among the nations, and that non-Jesus believing Jews are fulfilling God’s purposes to this very day.

According to one source:

Eleazar also said: “The Holy One, blessed be He, did not exile Israel among the nations save in order that proselytes might join them, for it is said: ‘And I will sow her unto Me in the land’ (Hosea 2:23); surely a man sows a se’eh in order to harvest many kor!” (b.Pesachim 87b)

-ibid

Toby continues:

…and therefore this saying is a metaphor for the knowledge of HaShem being spread among the nations of the world through the exile of Israel.

-ibid

This would seem to create some problems. First, it puts Judaism and Christianity in direct competition to make proselytes (converts) as part of spreading the knowledge of HaShem in the former case, and the Gospel Message of Jesus Christ in the latter case.

It also means that, from a Jewish perspective, if spreading the knowledge of HaShem requires making proselytes, then no Gentile person could benefit unless they converted to Judaism, which is also against many of the prophesies in the Tanakh (Old Testament).

But there’s a catch:

Although we have seen some fulfillment of Israel enlightening mankind throughout history, and although the nation’s exile has served a redemptive purpose, Israel’s call to be a light to the nations can be fully fulfilled only when they dwell securely within their land with their own sovereign monarchy.

-ibid

So here we have a connection between Israel as a light to the nations and Messiah, since one of Messiah’s critical tasks is to re-establish the sovereignty of Israel and to return all of the Jewish exiles to their Land. If Israel can’t be a light to the nations until those events have occurred, then Messiah is absolutely required in order to allow Israel to complete her mission.

This brings up a question about the role and function of Gentile Christianity. If everything hinges upon Israel having complete rule over her nation, all the Jews returning to Israel, and King Messiah being established on his throne, what happens to us? Toby writes all this as future events, but we are here now, aren’t we? What are we, chopped liver?

Toby doesn’t address this question and he seems to indicate that only Israel will participate in the worldwide revival and return to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I can see those non-Jews who identify as “Messianic Gentiles” within some recognized form of Messianic Judaism participating in a supporting role, but with no mention of the Church in this scenario, I can imagine many Christians feeling left out in the cold.

lightAnd yet, I know of many Christians who live holy lives, who do good, and who are devoted to God, and yet they do not have a “Messianic Jewish” perspective on the scriptures, nor do they anticipate Israel having such a “stellar” role in God’s redemptive plan. They fully expect that it will be the Christian Church who will step in and be “the light of the world” alongside Jesus Christ.

I wonder what happens to them?

Since Toby’s article is rather packed with information and meaning, and since I want to cite another author in the current issue of Messiah Journal, I’m going to stop here. See you in Part 2 of this article.

A Review of the Sinai Ethic: The Ethic of Election

In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain. Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.”

Exodus 19:1-6 (NASB)

The Sinai Ethic was originally presented by Rabbi Russ Resnik, executive director of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC), during the annual First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Shavu’ot Conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin. Shavu’ot, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah and the pouring out of the Spirit, is a holy and deeply spiritual time that provides a reverent connection with the people of God who heard the words of the LORD spoken from the fire at Mount Sinai. These teachings, given in three sessions during the festival, focus on the moral and ethical mandates that the giving of the Torah established for the Jewish people and all nations.

-from the back cover of the CD for the audio teaching, “The Sinai Ethic”

Session Two: The Ethic of Election

It’s been over three weeks since I reviewed Part One of Rabbi Resnik’s three-part series. I haven’t had much time to sit down and listen to the audio CD graciously provided by FFOZ but admittedly, I’ve been kind of dreading continuing with the series. Part One was difficult for me to get a handle on, and when I did, I found I didn’t always agree with what R. Resnik said.

Part Two was a pleasant departure from that experience, and I found The Ethic of Election to be straightforward, easy to follow, and to be what I expected it to be. It also provided me with some new perspectives on crucial parts of the Torah record and the story of Israel.

Resnik began his lecture with sort of a joke, kind of like a story about different siblings get together and find out they all thought that Mom loved them the best, as if each one of them were especially “chosen” or “elect” in relation to their Mom (“But I thought Mom loved me best”).

It gets uncomfortable when you think you’re the favorite in the family only to discover that all of your other family members think they’re the favorite, too. But more so, and especially in our egalitarian culture, where in order to avoid any losers having their feelings hurt, we’ve created a society where “everyone’s a winner,” Resnik says it’s a “scandalous idea” that any one person or group could be chosen, because it means other people and groups are not. It’s even worse when God made a choice and that choice of a people was an ethnic group. We don’t like any one ethnic group to be considered more, better, or special than any other group.

I quoted Exodus 19:1-6 above since Resnik read it to his audience, but he also read the following:

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.

1 Peter 2:9

Landron Paule_Histoire Sainte_Première Alliance_Droguet Ardant_Limoges 1991This came up in a previous blog post some weeks ago when I naively thought Peter must have been addressing a non-Jewish audience using the “chosen” language of Exodus 19, but it was pointed out to me that the apostle could have been as easily addressing Jewish disciples of the Master.

That said, Resnik acts as if Peter were addressing Gentiles and he (Rabbi Resnik) was using the verse to highlight the dynamic tension between all Israel being chosen by God and a remnant of the people of the nations also being chosen by God, and their being no contradiction between these two choices.

Resnik referenced his previous lecture, particularly the part about conditional and unconditional covenant elements, to highlight that the nature of Israel being chosen is unconditional. Exodus 19:5 makes Israel’s being chosen seem conditional on whether or not they obey the Torah, which is how most Christians read it, but verse 4 tells us that Israel being chosen is totally unconditional. What’s conditional is the role Israel plays and whether or not they will live out that role in a completely realized way, which they can only do if they obey God by observing the conditions of the covenant, the Torah mitzvot.

So God doesn’t “unchoose” Israel when they stumble, they just lose key elements in their role, such as living in the Land of Israel, being free vs. being slaves, and so on.

Resnik compares God as impartial judge to God as father. We all think we want God to be an impartial judge because that eliminates any preference of a particular population over all the people on earth. But while that may sound like a good idea, it also eliminates a father’s love for his children. Yes, all fathers love all of their children, but truth be told, any father will admit when pressed, that he usually relates better to one of his children than to the others.

Do you see where this is going? Relating better to one child does not remove the father’s love from any of the other kids, but because he’s human (this is a metaphor so don’t get too literal on me), he’s naturally going to connect to one kid’s personality more than the others for some reason.

This is God the Father in relation to Israel, His chosen one.

Christianity, and particularly what we call “Hebrew Roots,” regularly struggles with Israel’s chosen and special status because they think it means “God loves the Jewish people best” and to the exclusion of the Gentiles, but that’s not what Resnik is getting at here.

Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine… (emph. mine)

Exodus 19:5

What a strange statement to stick in that sentence: “for all the earth is Mine.” What does it mean? According to Resnik, it could have one of two possible interpretations:

  1. It could mean “all the earth is mine anyway, so I’ve got every right to choose you (Israel) among all the nations.”
  2. It could also mean “all the earth is mine, and so I’m choosing you (Israel) on behalf of all the nations.”

Resnik prefers the second interpretation. It’s not a matter of Israel being chosen and the rest of the nations are out of luck, Israel is chosen for a unique role of service to the rest of the world and to God. It’s one way to understand the two most important commandments, loving God with all your (Israel’s) resources by loving your neighbor (the rest of the world) as yourself.

You ever wonder why the story of Joseph takes up so much of the book of Genesis? I never did until Resnik brought it up.

Now Jacob lived in the land where his father had sojourned, in the land of Canaan. These are the records of the generations of Jacob.

Joseph, when seventeen years of age, was pasturing the flock with his brothers while he was still a youth, along with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought back a bad report about them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic. His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms.

Genesis 37:1-4

joseph-the-slaveThe “varicolored tunic” or “coat of many colors” doesn’t have a direct translation from Hebrew into English, but Resnik thinks of it as a “princely robe,” a sign of status, a sign of Joseph’s “election” by his father Jacob. It wasn’t that Jacob didn’t have a right to have a favorite among his sons. I mention above that this is kind of normal for human fathers (and for God). But his mistake, and Joseph’s, was rubbing the noses of the other brothers in it. While the brothers were supposed to support and endorse the election of Joseph, they never accepted it, so much so that when they got a chance, they tried to kill Joseph.

But first, they stripped off the sign of his election, ripped it to shreds, dipped it in blood, and threw it at their father’s feet as if to say, “This is what we think of your election of Joseph.” That’s not how it literally played out, but the symbolism is enough to give one pause, especially if we expand the metaphor into the history of the Jewish people in exile and how they have been mistreated and even murdered for the sake of our Gentile/Christian resentment of Israel’s election.

They say “the clothes make the man” and Joseph’s life seems to mirror that because his role changes as often as he changes clothes. He’s transformed from a slave into a prisoner when Potipher’s wife grabs his robe after her failed attempt to seduce him, and he is transformed from a prisoner to a prince when Pharaoh, King of Egypt, puts a signet ring on Joseph’s hand, clothes him in garments of fine linen, and puts a gold necklace around his neck (Genesis 41:42).

I never thought of Joseph subsequently testing his brothers as a test of whether or not they’d accept Jacob’s election of Benjamin as the favored son. After Joseph’s (perceived) death, all Jacob had left of Rachel was Benjamin. That’s why Jacob didn’t send Benjamin down to Egypt for food with the other brothers and why, when the brothers tell him what Joseph (as the Egyptian prince) did to them in demanding Benjamin’s presence, he resisted sending Benjamin to Egypt for months.

In the end, when given gifts of clothing and food by Joseph in Egypt, Benjamin always got bigger and better portions, and Judah passed the test on behalf of his brothers by guaranteeing his safety.

There’s an obvious comparison between Joseph and Yeshua (Jesus) in revealing the “mystery of election.” I said before that the clothes make the man, but it’s not just the clothes. Joseph didn’t really come into his own until he was stripped, not once but twice, and when he stopped being arrogant and learned to be a servant, only then were the robes of a King restored to him.

Jesus too was stripped and given the robes of a King and a crown (of thorns) but only to mock him. The Romans played at bowing to him, but it was to humiliate him. As a teenage boy, Joseph dreamed his brothers and father would bow to him and they resented it, but decades later it became the literal truth. We also know the literal truth that someday, every knee will bow to our King (Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10).

Both Joseph and Jesus were chosen by their fathers, rejected by their brothers, handed over to Gentiles, went down into a pit (of literal death in Jesus’ case), were dressed as Kings (as a form of mocking in Jesus’ case). Yet we know that one day Messiah will come back and assume the throne as our King, as ruler, and as servant.

And that’s the secret, that’s the missing ingredient, that’s what it took Joseph many years to learn, and that’s the secret of Israel’s election as well.

While Jacob may have chosen Joseph as his elect and dressed him up for the role, the seventeen year old kid had a lot to learn. He thought of the robe as a status symbol and as long as he did, he failed. Only when he learned to be a servant to people and to God did he realize the “princely robe” is really a servant’s apron. Only when his life was transformed was he worthy of election. Our Master taught us the same thing:

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Mark 10:45

Joseph of EgyptWhen the chosen Israel is obedient to God and of service to the world, she prospers in her “servant’s apron,” chosen of God on behalf of the nations of the earth. She is special and she wears the robes indicating their status, not as rulers but as especially responsible to God and to the world. When she’s disobedient, she is not “unchosen,” but like Joseph, she experiences “reversals” such as being slaves or prisoners, and Israel’s history is replete with such experiences. When she sees the robes of her election as a status symbol, they become twisted around her, trapping her.

When she understands their true nature, she is free, free to serve God and to realize her role in the world.

What Do I Think?

R. Resnik didn’t take it this far, though I suspect he might in his third and final lecture, but let’s see if I can anticipate him a little. As we saw in Joseph’s example, simply dressing up in a “princely robe” doesn’t make you a prince. If you’re a spoiled brat before putting on the robe, you’ll be a spoiled brat after you put it on, too. If you think you are deserving, special, and it’s your right to have that robe, then you risk having it stripped from you and worse.

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

Luke 14:7-11

I quote these verses with some regularity and with good reason. There are plenty of well-meaning non-Jewish believers who are authentically convinced that they are equally chosen along with all Israel and that they deserve to wear the princely robe along with them. Problem is, they see it as a status symbol, sort of like the BMW of robes, rather than the clothing of servants who are expected to “go the extra mile,” so to speak, in the service of the world and of service to God.

It was God who gave, among the other Torah mitzvot, the commandment of the tzitzit to Israel. One might think of a tallit as Joseph’s “princely robe,” but then again, the Shabbat, which is the actual sign of the Sinai covenant, kosher, the festivals, they all could be considered as those robes of servanthood.

Joseph eventually revealed his true identity to his brothers and his father and they were all brought down to Egypt and given land on which to live. Pharaoh was excited to hear that Joseph had brothers. If one Joseph could save Egypt and the rest of the civilized world from famine, think what a dozen “Josephs” could do.

But they never did. None of Joseph’s brothers were elevated to a position anywhere near what Joseph had achieved. None of them became “princes in Egypt” or anywhere else. Joseph was Jacob’s elect and he served and ruled until his dying day. His brothers were pale shadows by comparison. Yes, Jacob loved all his sons, but he rightly recognized that Joseph was special and chose him accordingly as was his right.

God chose Israel as is His right, not because of any quality Israel possessed, but simply because it was God’s desire to do so. He doesn’t have to have a reason, at least one we understand.

Joseph was chosen on a larger scale to save his family (Israel) and the rest of the world from famine and he did it. Jesus was also chosen by his Father to save Israel and the rest of the world, and in one sense, it was accomplished on the cross. But in a larger sense, the process is still ongoing and won’t be complete until he returns. Israel, national Israel and all the Jewish people, are chosen to prepare the world for the redemption of their nation and through them, the entire world.

tallit-prayerIf we, like Joseph’s brothers, choose to reject that election, and metaphorically speaking, rip up Israel’s robes (or Messiah’s), dip them in blood, and throw the gory mess at the feet of God (and how often has that already happened?), we will also suffer as the brothers did. We’ll still be part of the family, but we will forfeit much of our special role in the service of God. You cannot say you love God if you hate Israel and the Jewish people and covet their princely robe.

You also can’t simply crawl under the robe with Joseph like a small child of yesteryear would crawl under his mother’s skirts.

I don’t know if this is anywhere near where Resnik is going, but it’s what came to mind as I was listening to the lecture.

I didn’t want to go here but it seems to be the inevitable destination of “The Ethic of Election.”

Addendum: I know my review and commentary is likely to inspire some pushback from “the usual suspects” (if you’ll pardon my rather tongue-in-check expression), but I read something written by NT scholar Larry Hurtado, just a brief sentence fragment, that I thought relevant:

“Scholars really can’t be expected to agree all the time, and he and I have disagreed occasionally on this or that… (but) I also have enormous respect for Bagnall’s work overall…”

If Bible scholars can’t be expected to agree all the time about the message of the Bible, at least in the details, how much more so can we expect some disagreement between different groups of believers in relation to observing mitzvoth and the distinctive differences between Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master?

Ki Tavo: Chosen

jewish-davening-by-waterAnd the Lord has affirmed this day that you are, as He promised you, His treasured people who shall observe all His commandments, and that He will set you, in fame and renown and glory, high above all the nations that He has made; and that you shall be, as He promised, a holy people to the Lord your God.

Deuteronomy 26:18-19 (JPS Tanakh)

What does it mean to be the Chosen People? To many Jews it is a source of embarrassment and consternation. To many Christians it is a source of awe and admiration — and to some Christians, jealousy. And to our Muslim cousins — hatred?

Why is the concept of Chosen People an embarrassment and consternation to some Jews? The great concepts of equality and liberty flow from our Torah. That we should think of ourselves as “chosen” rubs against the grain that all people are created in the image of God. Also, if our Chosen-ness makes others jealous, who needs to give more justifications for crusades, pogroms and holocausts? Some Jews think that we have suffered because the Almighty calls us His Chosen People. And even if our suffering is not because of the appellation, then what good does it do for us to be called the Chosen People?

-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly”
Commentary for Torah Portion Ki Tavo
Aish.com

That’s a good question. Especially in America where we have the principles of equality and fair play, and especially in the modern, progressive age where it seems almost offensive to many if one group is given a special status, having a “chosen people” seems anachronistic, elitist, and even racist. How dare the Jewish people be chosen? What could God have been thinking? Who are the rest of us, chopped liver?

An additional wrinkle is that many Christians believe that they have taken over that “chosen” position and replaced the Jews and Israel in the covenant promises of God. Thomas Schreiner’s book 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law is a perfect example of this kind of thinking in the church. Fortunately, this perspective is slowly evolving beyond such a state, but we have a long way to go.

Rabbi Packouz cites the above quoted portion of Deuteronomy, from this week’s Torah reading, along with Exodus 19:5-6, Deuteronomy 7:6, and Deuteronomy 14:1-3 to illustrate Israel’s chosen status and specialness in the eyes of God.

The Rabbi further states:

While the concept of Chosen People does not mean a superior people, it does imply a special closeness of the Jewish people to the Almighty. Why is there that special closeness, that special relationship?

The concept of Chosen People means both chosen and choosing. Chosen for the responsibility to be a light unto the nations, to be a moral signpost for the nations of the world. Choosing means that the Jewish people accepted on Mt. Sinai to fulfill this mandate and to do the will of God. We are not chosen for special benefits; we are chosen for extra responsibility.

In my recent review of the FFOZ TV episode Ingathering of Israel, I mentioned that in the Biblical prophecies describing the ingathering of the elect at the second coming of Christ, the elect are clearly Israel, the Jewish people:

“Ho there! Flee from the land of the north,” declares the Lord, “for I have dispersed you as the four winds of the heavens,” declares the Lord. “Ho, Zion! Escape, you who are living with the daughter of Babylon.” For thus says the Lord of hosts, “After glory He has sent me against the nations which plunder you, for he who touches you, touches the apple of His eye. For behold, I will wave My hand over them so that they will be plunder for their slaves. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent Me. Sing for joy and be glad, O daughter of Zion; for behold I am coming and I will dwell in your midst,” declares the Lord.

Zechariah 2:6-10 (NASB)

jewish-christianIt is true that the non-Jewish disciples of the Jewish Messiah also have a role to play, a very important role, but we must never lose sight of what the Bible says about the Jewish people, especially not in order to elevate ourselves as Gentile Christians above the status God gave to us as “people of the nations who are called by His Name.”

In considering the phrase “one new man” from Ephesians 2:15 (and it’s not like I haven’t written about Ephesians a time or two), Christianity has spun a web that captures all people in Christ as being the same and eliminating the “chosenness” from the Jewish people, replacing it with the “chosenness” of Christianity. If Jews wish to have a “chosen” status, they must now convert to (Gentile) Christianity, abandoning Jewishness, Judaism, and especially Torah observance.

The flip side, and this is a minority view among Gentile believers, is that the almost the opposite happens. “One new man” describes all believers, Jewish and Gentile, adopting and embracing Jewish identity, Judaism, and especially Torah observance, but without Gentile conversion to Judaism.

No matter which way you slice it though, Jewish people and Israel lose being chosen the minute they enter any sort of Gentile Christian religious space, Hebrew Roots included.

Elhanan Ben-Avraham, in his article “Replacing Replacement”, written for the Summer 2013 issue of Messiah Magazine, defends the Jewish people against the traditional Christian theology of supersessionism.

Adherents of replacement theology claim that God has rejected his rebellious firstborn son and adopted a new son in his place. Part of their perspective includes the viewpoint that Jews must now become part of that church in order to be saved. Throughout the ages this has forced Jewish people to reject living as Jews and to accept Christianity instead with all its forms, rituals, symbols, practices and theologies.

It’s like a loving father choosing to kick out his first-born son and adopt a different son to replace him. I know a few adoptive families and I also know it’s quite possible to adopt a child without first removing the other children in the home. And yet, this traditional doctrine of the church seems to deny that fact and also, to deny that God’s first-born son, the Jewish people, could possibly retain any specialness in God’s view after the coming of Jesus, who after all, is God’s first-born son as an individual, and the living embodiment of everything it is to be Jewish and to embrace a life of Torah observance.

In his Torah commentary, Rabbi Packouz concludes:

Because of our voluntary acceptance, the Almighty made an eternal covenant with us that we will be His people and He will be our God. Any individual can come close to the Almighty, but the ultimate relationship comes through entering the covenant of Abraham and fulfilling the Torah. This special relationship is open to any member of humanity who wishes to enter the covenant irrespective of race, religion or ethnic origin.

Every nation, every people, every religion thinks that it is better than any other nation, people or religion. The Jewish people know that the issue is not whether we are better than anyone else, but whether we fulfill our part of the covenant with the Almighty to hold high the values of the Torah and to do the Almighty’s will.

abraham-covenant-starsThat Messiah came and opened the door, though one of the conditions of the Abrahamic covenant for the people of the nations to also enter into a relationship with God, does not delete any other covenants God made with the nation of Israel and the Jewish people. They remain chosen. We Gentiles who voluntarily accepted Yeshua as Lord, also are considered chosen or elect, but not with an identical set of responsibilities as the Jewish people. This is the confusing part.

This is why most Christians believe that the Torah was done away with, so that Jews and Gentiles can be identical. This is why some folks in the Hebrew Roots movement believe that Jesus applied the Torah to all people equally upon coming to faith in Messiah. The splitting of status and responsibility and the Jewish people retaining “chosenness” unique to themselves, even among Gentiles who follow the God of Israel, is an extraordinarily difficult thing to grasp, let alone to embrace, for everyone (or almost everyone) who isn’t Jewish.

And yet to deny this is to deny all of the promises of God to Israel and indeed, to deny God’s authority to choose Israel and have them remain chosen.

Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for light by day And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; The Lord of hosts is His name: “If this fixed order departs From before Me,” declares the Lord, “Then the offspring of Israel also will cease From being a nation before Me forever.”

Jeremiah 31:35-36 (NASB)

How can any non-Jewish religious movement or group demand that Jews cease to be unique, chosen, and set apart from the people of the nations, even the believing people of the nations, unless they set God’s Word aside in order to gratify the Gentile need to be “equal?”

As Rabbi Packouz said, being chosen isn’t easy. Being God’s elect has many difficult responsibilities attached. Pogroms, inquisitions, torture, maiming, blood libel, and murder have always followed the Jewish people because of their status. When the nations could not destroy them using those methods, they switched to assimilation, conversion, identity theft, and inclusion, and they are also very effective weapons.

And yet after thousands upon thousands of years, the Jewish people have not disappeared. God’s promises of return and restoration of the people to their Land, to Israel, remain intact. Only a fool would oppose God.

Good Shabbos.

33 days.

Who Let The Dogs Out?

And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.

Mark 7:24-30 (ESV)

Since the assigned lection a few Sundays ago on Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30), I’ve intended to comment on what appears to me a surprisingly widespread mis-reading of the passage. Essentially, the “dogs” (who Jesus says here must wait till after the “children” have eaten before they can be fed) are taken with an extremely pejorative connotation as feral mongrels, and the scene is read as if Jesus is pictured insulting the woman and treating her with contempt. I am embarrassed to find this basic take on the passage even in the learned commentary on Mark by a scholar I deeply admire: Adela Yarbro Collins, Mark: Hermeneia (Fortress Press, 2007), 366-67. But for several reasons, among them prominently the specifics of the Greek term used (unusually) in this passage, I think it pretty clear that this take is wrong.

Dr. Larry W. Hurtado
“Dogs, Doggies, and Exegesis”
Lary Hurtado’s Blog

Disclaimer: In using the title of the song Who Let the Dogs Out? written by Anselem Douglas and originally covered by the Baha Men, I am in no way attempting to be insulting to any individual or group of people, either those addressed within the context of this blog post or otherwise. Given the core statement made by Jesus in the Mark 7 quote, it just seemed like a “clever” title for my missive. That is the complete extent of my intention for using the song title.

Note: I’m taking an interpretation written by well-known New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado and using it as a springboard to make a suggestion of my own. I certainly don’t expect Hurtado (should he ever read this) to agree with me and frankly, what I’m doing in today’s blog post is something of an “experiment.” Just so you know.

Was Jesus a racist? This question doesn’t come out of thin air. There have been several recent conversations in the blogosphere in relation to Messianic Judaism (click the link to see my rather specific definition for the term) and whether or not proponents of Messianic Judaism as a form of Judaism, rather than an all-inclusive “Christianity,” is racist. (See Judah Himango’s blog post Two Church: Defining Bilateral Ecclesiology in Simple Terms for the latest discussion) The suggestion is that, by insisting that the modern Jewish disciples of the ancient Jewish Messiah are a Judaism and, like all other Jews, are the sole inheritors of the Mosaic covenant because they are the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that Messianic Judaism and Messianic Jews are being racist. That is, Messianic Jews, by overtly excluding non-Jewish Christians from the conditions of the Mosaic covenant (the Torah), are denying people access to being obligated to the full weight of the Torah mitzvot based on race.

The topic is extremely rich and can be taken in a lot of different directions, but since I had recently read Dr. Hurtado’s above-quoted blog post and it’s companion article, I thought I’d use them as the focus of my investigation. They really are quite fitting since they directly address Christ’s interaction with the (non-Jewish) Syro-Phoenician woman in Mark 7 and he appears to treat her rather badly because she’s not Jewish. But is that really the case?

This sense of a domestic scene ought to be obvious simply in reading the passage. Jesus is pictured as responding to the woman’s request by saying, “Let the children be fed first, for it isn’t right to give the childrens’ food to the dogs.” The point of the statement is the temporal priority of the “children”, of course in this case, referring to Jesus directing his ministry to fellow Jews. The metaphor presumes a setting in which the household dogs are fed the leftovers after the family has eaten (not custom-produced dog-food). (I know the practice well, having grown up in a rural setting in which the household dogs ate what we ate, only after we had eaten.)

The woman’s clever reply confirms this, respectfully pointing out that “the dogs under the table eat from the portions of the children.” “Wild” dogs and “scavenger dogs of the street” aren’t typically allowed “under the table” and around the children! And anyone with both children and household dogs will know how it goes at mealtime: If allowed, the dogs hang about the children’s chairs, knowing that children love to “drop” morsels to their pets.

Finally, we also have to ask ourselves how likely it is that the authors of Mark (writing for a Christian readership at least largely made up of converted gentiles) would have inserted a scene in which supposedly Jesus insults a gentile woman in the harsh terms imputed by some modern readers. She is “put in her place” as a gentile, but it’s a temporal place. The scene functions to explain that, although Jesus’ own ministry was confined to his Jewish people (apparently, a tradition that Mark couldn’t deny/ignore), the subsequent mission to gentiles was (Mark wants to imply) on the agenda, only it had to wait its time, and Jesus is pictured as anticipating that gentile-mission in responding positively to the woman’s respectful but clever response.

Was Jesus racist? Seemingly not, according to Dr. Hurtado, at least not in a way where he was being “cruel” to the non-Jewish woman. What Hurtado describes is a situation whereby Jesus seems to order his overall ministry, with the Jews (“the children”) “served” first, and only afterwards are the domesticated “dogs” under the table (non-Jews) fed. According to Hurtado, Jesus wasn’t being insulting or racist and in fact, he was certainly “inclusive” (using a modern term appropriate for such discussions) of non-Jews, but he did not see them on the same lateral plane at that point in time. They (we) wouldn’t be served until after his death, resurrection, and ascension. During his first coming, Gentiles didn’t occupy the same “space” or the same roles relative to his mission to the Jews as the Jewish redeeming Messiah and Savior. Nevertheless, he did take the time to “feed the dog under the table” so to speak.

This is made a bit more clear by Dr. Hurtado’s subsequent blog post:

One further observation about the little scene between Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman in Mark 7:24-30 is that the initial response ascribed to Jesus is not a derogatory reference to the woman, or a simple misogynist or racial put-down, but is instead a parable-like saying specifically appropriate to the woman.

The part about the “parable-like saying specifically appropriate to the woman” could stand some examination. If I say that the sequence of events we see in Mark 7:24-30 represents how Jesus saw the prioritization of his ministry in relation to Jews and Gentiles, and if I say that, based on these verses, it was Christ’s intent to “feed” both the “lost sheep of Israel” and the non-Jews living among Israel, but giving a later temporal priority to the non-Jews, then can I generalize this as Christ’s intent to maintain some sort of distinction for the disciples among the nations that he would later (after the resurrection) command his Jewish disciples to make? (see Matthew 28:18-20).

Hurtado doesn’t directly address this issue and he would probably disagree with how I’m using his material. He seems to say that the only difference between Jewish disciples and Gentile disciples is that the Jews would be brought in first. The Gentiles would enter discipleship later on. But is the only distinction temporal?

Based on the Last Supper narratives (Matthew 26:17-30, Mark 14:12-26, Luke 22:7-39 and John 13:1-17:26), Jesus intended on bringing all of his followers, Jewish and Gentile alike, into covenant relationship with God via the New Covenant (see Jeremiah 31 and Ezekiel 36), a covenant which confirmed and expanded upon the previous covenants God made with Israel. Prior to this point, the non-Jewish nations did not have direct access to God through covenant (unless they converted to Judaism). Only through the blood and bodily death of Jesus and his subsequent resurrection could we be brought in and placed on a level plane in the Kingdom relative to access to God and experiencing God’s love for us. This fits quite well with what Hurtado wrote.

But would that make a difference in how Jesus saw the Gentile disciples made after his ascension to how he saw the Syro-Phoenician woman? Was it his intention to elevate the “dogs sitting under the table” to the status of “children sitting around the table?” Given that Mark was writing his Gospel primarily to non-Jewish disciples, I believe I can make a case for the answer “no.” Otherwise, Mark’s description of this transaction becomes wholly anachronistic to the disciples from the nations (i.e. non-Jewish Christians).

I’d like to suggest that the distinction between the Jewish and Gentile disciples wasn’t necessarily temporal, but sequential and derivative. In fact, the way I understand how Gentiles manage to be injected into a relationship with God through the covenants (specifically Abrahamic and New) made with Israel, it would have to be.

Paul appears to echo Mark’s theme and suggest one that mirrors my suggestion in his famous letter to the church in Rome:

There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek. For God shows no partiality.

Romans 2:9-11 (ESV)

PaulThis short verse tells us several things. First, Paul, in speaking to a “mixed congregation” of Jews and non-Jews, continues to draw a distinction between them (he calls them “Jews” and “Greeks,” not “Christians” or some other all-inclusive term designed to negate any distinction between the two groups). He also says two things that seem to be contradictory. He says that God shows no partiality” between Jews and Greeks, but he also says “the Jew first and also the Greek,” which dovetails very nicely into Hurtado’s analysis of the Mark 7 passage where he describes a “temporal” prioritization, but also a sequential prioritization, where the Jews would always be considered before the non-Jews regardless of circumstances, good or bad.

Since Paul at this point, is addressing Jews and Gentiles who are all covenant members under the Messiah, it is reasonable to say, in my opinion, that the relationship between Jews and non-Jews remains distinctive. The non-Jews are not considered before the Jewish disciples, and their (our) relationship with God derives from the Jews after the non-Jews have entered into covenant relationship with God through Jesus Christ. We are equal, because God shows no partiality, but the distinction between Jew and Gentile is maintained as is the rather (on the surface) unflattering relationship between the Jewish “children” and the non-Jewish “domesticated dogs,” though a kinder metaphor such as parent to child (no, it’s not a perfect metaphor) might be more fitting.

There’s a strong tendency to try to understand the relationship between believing Jews and believing non-Jews in terms of 21st century western cultural, social, and legal definitions. America and the other nations of the west, are based on a strong imperative to treat all people of differing races, cultures, ethnic groups, languages, and nationalities as equal in terms of law and access to resources. Our system of equality is flawed, but the principle exists and it’s a good one.

But we can’t seem to get around the fact that first Jesus (as described by Mark) and later Paul both differentiated between the Jewish and non-Jewish followers and disciples of the Messiah. The Jews were brought in first but they continued to be first, even after the Gentiles were brought into covenant. The Jews were directly descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and as such, were the beneficiaries of all of the covenants God made with Israel. The people of the other nations would not be able to enter into covenant with God except through Jesus and the New Covenant (the original blessings can be traced back to the Abrahamic covenant) and thus, Jesus and later Paul, order their priorities differently depending on…yes, on race. They order them differently based on whether or not a person is physically a descendent of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob or not. Everybody except for the Jewish people, are not.

Was Jesus a racist? Not in the sense we understand the term today. He did however, differentiate based on racially associated covenant relationships. Being Jewish was one thing. Being non-Jewish was something else. Through Jesus, we Christians enter into a relationship with God, think of it as going from wild, scavenging dogs, to domesticated dogs. Not very flattering, as I said before, especially if we (to extend Mark’s metaphor) continue to consider the Jews as “children” by comparison. On the other hand, maybe we’re much newer additions to the family and must continue (as in many families) to pay deferential respect and have differing privileges than the older members of the family.

But setting aside the uncomfortable literal interpretation of this language, the difference between the Jewish believers and the Gentile believers is not one of God’s love or access to our Creator, but of older vs. younger or, who we are as non-Jews in the family is directly derived from the older Jewish members. Jews are “served first.” The dogs eat what the children eat but the children will always come first. Or the younger family members eat what the older members eat, but the younger eat later, waiting first for the older members to be served. Perhaps we even eat only because the older members of the family, the root, provides the nourishment.

I don’t think I’ve “solved” the “are Messianic Jews racist” debate. I admit that I’ve taken liberties with the text and explored alleyways Hurtado would likely not approve of. I’ve also probably raised more questions than I’ve answered,  but I wasn’t actually trying to answer questions. I’ve been trying to introduce the possibility that Jesus never intended to eliminate any of the “specialness” of the “Children” of Israel when he, through God’s grace and mercy, made a way possible for the people of the nations to also enter God’s Kingdom. I think our connection will always be through Israel and we will always be dependent on Israel (and Israel’s firstborn son Jesus) for our access to God.

Something to think about anyway.

Ekev: Do Not Forsake Your Father’s Torah

These concepts are related to this week’s Torah reading, Parshas Eikev. Eikev literally means “heel,” and refers to ikvesa diMeshicha, (Or HaTorah, the beginning of Parshas Eikev.) the time when Mashiach’s approaching footsteps can be heard. Moreover, the connection between this era and “heels” runs deeper. The human body is used as a metaphor (See Tanya, ch. 2.) to describe the Jewish nation as it has existed over the ages. In that context, our present generation can be compared to the heel the least sensitive limb in the body for we lack the intellectual and emotional sophistication of our forebears.

Other interpretations (Devarim Rabbah 3:1,3; Ibn Ezra and Ramban to Deuteronomy 7:12.) explain that the word eikev refers to “The End of Days” when the ultimate reward for observance of the Torah and its mitzvos will blossom. Indeed, the beginning of the Torah reading focuses on the reward we will receive for our Divine service.

The rewards of health, success, and material well-being mentioned by the Torah are merely catalysts, making possible our observance. For when a person commits himself to observe the Torah and its mitzvos, G-d shapes his environment to encourage that observance.

And yet, man should not strive for this era merely in order to partake of its blessings.

The Sages and the prophets did not yearn for the Era of Mashiach in order to rule over the entire world, nor in order to eat, drink, and celebrate. Rather their aspiration was to be free [to involve themselves] in the Torah and its wisdom, without anyone to oppress or disturb them. (Loc. cit. :4, see also Hilchos Teshuvah 9:2.)

It is the observance of the Torah and the connection to G-d which this engenders which should be the goal of all our endeavors.

The two interpretations of the word eikev are interrelated. For it is the intense commitment that characterizes our Divine service during ikvesa diMeshicha which will bring the dawning of the era when we will be able to express that commitment without external challenge. Heartfelt dedication to the Torah today will bear fruit, leading to an age in which the inner spark of G-dliness which inspires our observance will permeate every aspect of existence. “For the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the ocean bed.” (Isaiah 11:9, quoted by the Rambam, loc. cit.: 5)

-Rabbi Eli Touger
“When the Heel Becomes a Head”
Commentary on Torah Portion Ekev
Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IX, p. 71ff;
Sefer HaSichos 5749, p. 641ff
Chabad.org

Certainly the meditations and interpretations of the Chassidim are esoteric and not easily understood. Also, there is a difference between midrash and the more plain meaning we can derive from scripture, so we can’t take any significant portion of Rabbi Touger’s commentary as “Gospel” from a Christian point of view. However, the lesson is not completely without merit, either.

In reviewing this commentary (you can read the complete text at the link I provided above) and also from reading the text from this week’s Torah Portion, we can see revealed before us as Moses continues his closing address to the Children of Israel, that the nation; the people of Israel are indeed unique among all of mankind. God chose them and set them apart as a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6) before Him and that they would always be a nation in His Presence.

Given what I’ve just said, it’s natural for Christians then to ask, “What about us?” The answer is that by the merit of the blood of our Master and Lord Jesus Christ, we Gentiles also have access to a covenant relationship with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Of course how the covenant is applied to the nations is not identical to God’s “choosing” of Israel from out of the nations, so we have never seen Gentiles turned into Jews without undergoing the full conversion process (which has changed significantly over time). Becoming a Christian is just that, becoming a disciple of the Jewish Messiah King and being covered by the “Messianic” covenant (I’ve said all this before).

I know we struggle with the idea of maintaining distinctions between the Jews and Gentile Christians relative to God and the Messiah. But what if those distinctions were to go away? What if Jews voluntarily decided to “unchoose” themselves?

Actually, it’s already happened:

I’ve often heard the Jews referred to as the “Chosen People.” Isn’t that possibly the source of much of the anti-Semitism in the world?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

If Jewish “choseness” is in fact the cause of anti-Semitism, then hatred against the Jews should disappear when Jews drop the claim that they are chosen.

Late in the 19th century, the Jews living in Germany and Austria collectively rejected their “choseness” and were assimilated by their host nation. In fact, they believed that the non-Jews among whom they lived were the true chosen people. “Berlin is our Jerusalem!” they loudly proclaimed. Gentile society was their social environment of choice, and Germany their beloved motherland.

Did anti-Semitism disappear? We all know the tragic answer to that question. The Jews in Germany and Austria experienced the most vicious outpouring of anti-Semitic hatred in history. Precisely when Jews rejected their claim to “chosenness,” they suffered the most virulent forms of anti-Semitism.

Another test of the Chosen People theory is to see how humanity responds to other peoples who claim to be “chosen.” If the claim that Jews are chosen gives rise to anti-Semitism, then all groups who make similar claims of having been “chosen” should also become targets of persecution and hatred.

Christianity and Islam represent two other major religious groups that claim to have been chosen. Christian theology accepts that God gave the Bible to the Jews and made the Jews His special messengers. However, it is the Christian belief that once the Jews rejected Jesus, the Christians became God’s new chosen people.

Muslims likewise believe that the Jewish Bible is the word of God. However, Muslim theology claims that when Mohammad appeared on the scene, God made the Muslims His chosen people. But why hasn’t this historically generated hatred against them?

Ask the Rabbi
“Chosen People – Source of Anti-Semitism?”
Aish.com

Even when all of the Jews in an entire nation voluntarily “surrendered” their status as “God’s chosen people,” there was no difference. The world still chose to treat them in exactly the same manner as when Jews stand firmly upon the foundation of the Torah and behave in accordance to their covenant status and perform the mitzvot. God will not permit the Jewish people to forget the promises He made to them and He will not permit them to relinquish their responsibilities to Him. If the Jewish people attempt to go back on their promises to God, there are powerful consequences that come into play.

Now let’s apply that to the Jewish people who have accepted Jesus as the promised Messiah and yet who insist on affirming the Torah covenant between them and God. Are they wrong for refusing to relinquish their “chosen” status that requires they perform the mitzvot of Sinai in response to the Mosaic covenant? Should we non-Jewish believers insist that the Jews give up the Torah mitzvot to the rest of the world, thereby diluting and ultimately dissolving anything resembling a distinct identity among the worldwide community of Jews. Except for a bit of DNA, the Jews would no longer be Jewish as God defines them.

Somehow, given the example of history, particularly within the past 80 or 90 years, it seems that would be a bad idea. I don’t believe God would permit the Jewish people who have come to faith in the Messiah to permanently and en masse, surrender the Torah to the nations of the world, particularly if their Judaism goes along with it. If the nation of Israel was supposed to be unique in the time of Moses, and it was the nation of Israel that sent forth Jewish emissaries carrying the good news of the Messiah to the nations, why would God subsequently desire to liquidate Israel and replace them with a more generic body comprised of Gentiles and (former) Jews?

Judah Gabriel Himango recently coined the term “supersessionoia” on his blog, and I’m probably guilty as charged. On the other hand, is it really a “phobia” to support the Jewish people as the Jewish people, as unique to God, as His treasured splendorous people, and at the same time, acknowledge, affirm, and support the special covenant relationship the rest of we disciples of the Master have as Christians?

In all clear conscious, and I admit that I’m hardly objective since my wife and three children are (non-Messianic) Jewish, as a Christian husband and father, I will continue to support them being Jewish and hope and pray they will turn their hearts to God and Torah and live as Jews from one generation to the next. I know that terrible consequences face the Jewish people for surrendering the authority of the Torah as given to them and them alone at Sinai.

Take care lest you forget the Lord your God and fail to keep His commandments, His rules, and His laws, which I enjoin upon you today. When you have eaten your fill, and have built fine houses to live in, and your herds and flocks have multiplied, and your silver and gold have increased, and everything you own has prospered, beware lest your heart grow haughty and you forget the Lord your God — who freed you from the land of Egypt, the house of bondage; who led you through the great and terrible wilderness with its seraph serpents and scorpions, a parched land with no water in it, who brought forth water for you from the flinty rock; who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers had never known, in order to test you by hardships only to benefit you in the end — and you say to yourselves, “My own power and the might of my own hand have won this wealth for me.” Remember that it is the Lord your God who gives you the power to get wealth, in fulfillment of the covenant that He made on oath with your fathers, as is still the case.

If you do forget the Lord your God and follow other gods to serve them or bow down to them, I warn you this day that you shall certainly perish; like the nations that the Lord will cause to perish before you, so shall you perish — because you did not heed the Lord your God. –Deuteronomy 8:11-20 (JPS Tanakh)

These are the Father’s loving instructions to His Jewish children:

Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction, and be attentive, that you may gain insight, for I give you good precepts; do not forsake my Torah. –Proverbs 4:1-2

Good Shabbos.