Tag Archives: derek leman

What am I, Chopped Liver?

For the conductor with the neginos, a psalm, a song. May God favor us and bless us, may He illuminate His countenance with us, Selah. To make known Your way on earth, among all the nations Your salvation. The peoples will acknowledge You, O God; the peoples will acknowledge You — all of them. Regimes will be glad and sing for joy, because You will judge the peoples fairly and guide with fairness the regimes on earth, Selah. The peoples will acknowledge You, O God; the peoples will acknowledge You — all of them. The earth will then have yielded its produce; may God, our God bless us. May God bless us, and may all the ends of the earth fear Him.

Psalm 67 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Forgive the somewhat whimsical title for today’s “morning meditation” along with the equally whimsical “featured image.”

When I read the above quoted Psalm on Shabbat, I was reminded that God has a redemptive plan, not just for Israel, the Jewish people, but for all the people of all the nations of the earth, that is, the Gentiles.

I suspect God has had this plan since before the creation of the universe, but we definitely know He had it when this Psalm was written, long before the birth of Yeshua (Jesus).

I strongly advocate Jewish return to the Torah mitzvot, whether they are Jews in the Messianic movement or otherwise. I strongly advocate for Jewish places of congregation and worship in Messianic Judaism, synagogues and communities by and for Jewish disciples of Messiah. I strongly believe in and advocate for the idea that without God’s plan of redemption for Israel, there can be no hope of redemption for the goyim.

All that said, there are times when I feel all of that Judaism weighing heavily upon me. In advocating for the Jewish right to cleave to their Messiah King and to have possession of their own Land and their own Torah, I don’t want to lose sight of the fact that God also recognizes and loves the rest of humanity, a non-Jewish humanity.

prayingGranted, there’s nothing in that Psalm that directly says “God so loved the world” (John 3:16), but it does say that the (Gentile) regimes will “be glad and sing for joy” because God will judge among us fairly. We will all acknowledge the God of Israel and the “earth will then have yielded its produce.”

The harvest is great, but the workers are few.

Matthew 9:38 (Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels)

Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.

1 Corinthians 15:18-20 (NASB)

“Produce.” “Harvest.” “First fruits.” It seems that it is not only the Jews who are counted among the harvest, but the rest of us as well, all of us who trust in the promises of God as demonstrated by Messiah.

A person who comes to Torah on his own volition does so because of the beautiful and elevated ideas he hears about Torah principles. He made his decision on the assumption that those who follow the Torah will act towards him in accordance with all the Torah laws pertaining to interpersonal relations. If someone cheats him financially or in any other way wrongs him, he will not only suffer a monetary loss. Rather, he might also feel disillusioned with his decision to accept Torah as a way of life.

-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Act with love and kindness towards converts,” discussing Bamidbar (Numbers) 5:6
Commentary on Torah Portion Naso, p. 312
Growth Through Torah

While Rabbi Pliskin is discussing converts to Judaism in this above-quoted statement, and while I don’t believe we “Messianic Gentiles” are called to Torah obligation in the manner of the Jewish people, I don’t think it’s entirely inappropriate or inaccurate to say that, in a way, we also come to the Torah, as it applies to us, “because of the beautiful and elevated ideas” expressed in the “Torah principles.”

I don’t feel put upon or mistreated by any Messianic Jews as such, but I do need to remind myself periodically that we non-Jews also have a role to play. More than that, I need to provide some much-needed perspective to who we non-Jews are in Messiah.

While I recently wrote that the identity of the Messianic Gentile, both in ancient and modern times, may be ill-defined by design, I’ve also offered my opinion on what I think we’re here for.

desert islandBut in addition, I believe that even one non-Jewish disciple of Yeshua could be stuck on a deserted island with nothing but his or her Bible, yes, adequate food, water, and shelter, but no other human companionship, Jewish or otherwise, and still have a relationship with a loving and caring God because of the faithfulness of Messiah. I think there are times when Messianic Jews should advocate for Gentile devotion to God and express the clear knowledge that God does cherish even the goyim. I believe the door should swing both ways within the ekklesia of Moshiach.

It is easy to focus on the differences among people and to consider yourself as separate from others. Truly no two people are exactly alike. But there are many common factors among people. By focusing on the fact that every human being is created in the image of the Almighty you will have greater identification with others and this will lead to greater unity.

-Rabbi Pliskin
“With unity there is a blessing,” p.316
Commentary in Torah Portion Naso, discussing Bamidbar (Numbers) 6:24

I suppose when Rabbi Pliskin wrote “differences among people,” he could and probably did mean “differences among Jews,” but in saying that “every human being is created in the image of the Almighty,” he opened the door to all of humanity, Jews and Gentiles alike.

While I have advocated for a strong recognition of the covenant distinctions between Messianic Jews and Gentiles, we also must counterbalance that knowledge with our unity in Messiah’s ekklesia. We may be in many ways separated from each other by those covenant distinctions, but while we are not a homogenous population, there aren’t two Messianic ekklesias, there is one, just as God is One and yet has many diverse names and many distinctive qualities.

Recently, Derek Leman wrote what I consider to be a pair of “bookends” on his blog: Why Non-Jews Are Drawn To Messianic Judaism and On Messianic Judaism As A Home For Jewish Believers.

Each blog post advocates for its named subject, Gentiles in one and Jews in the other.

In both Jewish and non-Jewish zeal to promote and elevate the Jewishness of Messianic Judaism, I’m glad to see some noteworthy Messianic Jewish writers and teachers specifically addressing both sides of the coin.

I think one of the reasons Gentile believers exited Jewish community nearly twenty centuries ago and why there are some Hebrew Roots promoters in the modern age who not only advocate but demand equal obligation to Torah as some sort of right, is as an attempt to create a significant and meaningful Gentile identity in the body of Yeshua-believers.

In the end, the first and second century believing Gentiles may not have been able to find that identity in Jewish community, so they made the worst possible decision and not only separated from the Jews, but “demonized” everything Jewish, reimaging the Jewish Messiah as the Gentile Christ, and warping everything ever taught by Yeshua and the Apostles, specifically Paul’s teachings.

the crowdI believe that many so-called “One Law” advocates cling to their views because the dissonance of differing and distinct roles and identities of Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic ekklesia is too difficult to bear. This probably also explains why a number of we Messianic Gentiles have mistakenly converted to some form of Judaism, Messianic and otherwise, in an attempt to find meaning and purpose in the service of God among Jewish community.

However, as a non-Jew and a devotee of the Jewish Messiah King, I do have meaning and purpose in the redemptive plan of God for our world. Yes, it’s first to the Jew and only afterward, to the Gentile, but it is to the Gentile at a specific point in that plan.

The plan has already entered our world and it has been slowly unfolding for the past two-thousand years. That plan has included an untold number of Gentiles and as important as Jewish Torah observance and devotion to Moshiach is, the plan will never be complete without the rest of us.

I just needed to remind you and especially me by saying all this. Thanks for reading.

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Abraham, Ephesians 2, and the Unique Jewish Mission, Part 2

For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.

Ephesians 2:14-16 (NASB)

This text indicates that the two identified in Ephesians 2:11 as Gentiles and Jews, have become one in Christ. Jesus broke down the barrier dividing the two in order to create “one new man” in which there is peace and reconciliation. “One new man” is a metaphor for the church but, in spite of its apparent simplicity, two diametrically opposing views of its nature appear in the literature. Each of these views is underpinned by antithetical perspectives on Israel in the present era inaugurated by the Christ-event.

-David B. Woods
“One New Man, Part 1 of 2” p.51
from Issue 119/Spring 2015 of Messiah Journal

Continued from Part 1.

The above-quoted scripture is the foundation for both Woods’ commentary in the current issue of Messiah Journal and Derek Leman’s commentary on his blog. Leman addresses “the wall” and what it might actually be from a Judaically-oriented interpretive perspective, and Woods takes on who this “one new man” might be.

Woods quoted Martyn Lloyd-Jones (“God’s Way of Reconciliation” [vol. 2. of “An Exposition on Ephesians”; Edinburgh, Scotland: Baker Book House, 1972], 275) to exemplify the currently held viewpoint of the “one new man” within Evangelical Christianity:

The Jew has been done away with as such, even as the Gentile has been done away with, in Christ…nothing that belonged to the old state is of any value or has any relevance in the new state.

-ibid, p.52

If you’re familiar with my views on supersessionism, otherwise known as replacement theology or fulfillment theology, then you know from my perspective, those are “fighting words.

Conversely, Woods quoted the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) (“Introducing Messianic Judaism and the UMJC” [Albuquerque, NM: Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, 2010], 24) to illustrate the “flip side” of the coin:

One new man does not mean that the distinction and mutuality between Jews and Gentiles are obliterated. Instead, it means that Jews as Jews and Gentiles as Gentiles, with their differences and distinctions, live in unity and mutual blessing in Yeshua…they do not become a new generic, uniform humanity.

-ibid

AbrahamThis harkens back to certain passages of Carl Kinbar’s article from the same issue of Messiah Journal: “The Promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Part 1” which I mentioned in my previous blog post. God endowed the Jews, through the patriarchs, with certain blessings and responsibilities, and one of those responsibilities is, through Abraham, being a blessing to the Gentiles. This operates through the faithfulness of Messiah and Gentile faith in the God of Israel through Messiah Yeshua, and it only works if Israel, that is, the Jewish people, remain distinct from the Gentile disciples in the Ekklesia of Messiah.

Distinction theory is my term for the theological framework which understands Jewish and Gentile believers in Jesus as distinct in certain significant theological senses, including identity and function (role, service) in the economy of God’s kingdom. That is, a biblical differentiation exists between Israel and the nations within the church similar to that which existed before Christ. This distinction results in a twofold structure within the church that I label “intra-ecclesial Jew-Gentile distinction.” In this framework, the “one new man” or “humanity” as I shall explain, comprises Jews and Gentiles who together are devoted to Jesus.

-ibid, p.53

I know that statement won’t sit well with some people reading this, namely more traditional, mainstream Christians, and certainly many Hebrew Roots proponents. Woods intends on showing from his analysis of scripture, how his view is more Biblically sustainable than those views that insist on the obliteration of Jewish uniqueness of identity and corporate covenant responsibility, either by, in essence, “Gentile-izing” them (and recall that Kinbar says you can’t “unJew” a Jew) or erasing Jewish distinction by assigning Jewish roles and responsibilities to both Jews and Gentiles equally.

To do this, Woods proposes to take the phrase “one new man” and analyze the Greek (and Hebrew) one word at a time. Unfortunately, by the time he ended part 1 of his article, he had addressed only the first word.

His explanation is complex, but in short:

Hena assuredly means one, but Jewish and Christian scholars alike are aware that the word is laden with theological import. God, says Deuteronomy 6:4, is one (…echad–or heis in the Septuagint, where heis and hena are inflections of the same word).

-ibid, p.54

Relative to the Shema and “the LORD is One”, it is just as accurate to translate echad as “unique” or “alone”. Applied to the “one” in “one new man,” this changes the meaning somewhat, from a single fused entity, to a grouping that has the potential to contain other groupings. Certainly “alone” could be compared to “called out”.

Also echad might not imply so much that God is “one and indivisible,” but…

…rather that God alone is to be worshiped to the exclusion of all other gods.

-ibid

Woods also considers basar echad or “one flesh” (Genesis 2:4) and states:

The marriage relationship is dependent on the distinction between husband and wife; thus “unity implies distinctiveness and yet is complementary.”

-ibid

beth immanuel
Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship

Looking back upon the “one new man” as the Messiah’s Ekklesia, we can see that it’s possible to have a group of called out ones that are echad and yet not only can contain sub-groups that are distinct, but that the Ekklesia’s very existence is dependent upon the Jewish and Gentile sub-groups within the larger “one” group remaining distinct and also complementary.

Woods cites Ephesians 2:11-22 in that it notes:

…that the principle distinction between members of the body is their status in Israel: They are either members of Israel (Jews), or they are drawn from among the nations (Gentiles/non-Jews) into fellowship with Israel–yet without becoming Jews.

-ibid, p.55 (emph. mine)

I might change that last part to say that we Gentiles in the Ekklesia are drawn “into fellowship with Israel without becoming Israel.” We have fellowship with Israel without replacing or usurping Israel’s unique covenant relationship with and responsibility to God.

Woods continues building his case for several more pages, but I believe I’ve presented sufficient examples to illustrate where he’s going. However, he won’t begin discussing his understanding of the word “new” until the next issue of Messiah Journal which will be published this coming summer.

Turning now to Derek Leman’s blog post on the Dividing Wall:

I attended a paper in 2013 on the meaning of the dividing wall passage of Ephesians 2. A year and a half later, the interpretation put forward by Jesper Svartvik still looks good to me. I include here a postlude concerning the meaning of “abolishing the law of commandments in decrees.”

So based on Leman’s presentation of the conclusions of Svartvik’s 2013 paper, how are we to understand the “dividing wall” that Yeshua was to have “broken down in his own flesh?”

From Leman’s perspective (taking from Svartvik), the Christian misunderstanding of this “wall” is based on the Christian misunderstanding of the Temple’s sacrificial system:

First, Svartvik said we need to keep in mind a Jewish understanding of sacrifice and the Temple worship, as opposed to same later Christian re-interpretations. Sacrifice at the Temple was about staying in the covenant and not getting in. People were not trying to “get saved” or “be born again” in offering a lamb. They already were in and sacrifices were part of keeping right relation with God.

Second, sacrifice in the Bible is about nearness, the spatial metaphor of “drawing near” to God. The verb most used for offering a sacrifice means literally “bring near.” (As a Hebrew Bible devotee, I can tell you, this is not only true, it is one of the most profound things I wish people knew about the sacrifices and it is one of the major issues I discuss in my book, Yeshua Our Atonement). We might notice that in Ephesians 2 the same nearness issue is being discussed: those who were far off are now brought near.

The Jewish people were near to God and the Gentiles were far off. So how could those who were far off be brought near to those who were already near (the Jews)? How was the enmity between Jews and Gentiles to be resolved? By doing away with Jewish obligation to Torah? By mandating that Jewish obligation to Torah also be assigned equally to the Gentile?

As we see from Woods, forming an “echad” Ekklesia of Jews and Gentiles doesn’t require that both groups be eliminated to form a new, homogenous entity with no distinctiveness contained within it.

As I quoted Leman in my previous blog post, the dividing wall can be understood differently than the four prevailing theories, the “soreg” or literal fence forming the “Court of the Gentiles” in the Temple, the Talmudic “fence” around the Torah commandments, a theological dividing wall between heaven and earth, or, most commonly, the Torah itself. The dividing wall can be understood as a metaphor for the “mistrust and enmity between Jews and Gentiles in the Greco-Roman world in which the apostles founded a movement of faith.”

intermarriageLet’s go back to Woods’ comparison of “one” as the “echad” of a marriage. A man and a woman meet and fall in love. They desire to marry, but there are “issues” that stand between them that must be resolved before they can enter into a life-long commitment to one another. You might say that they have to overcome any “mistrust and enmity” between them before they can be joined as “one flesh” and become something new, not two individuals, male and female, living apart, but “one flesh”, male and female, living in a single family and yet requiring they maintain their distinctiveness.

You can go to Leman’s blog to read the entire text of his essay as well as view the ongoing discussion, but hopefully, I’ve adequately summarized his main point regarding the nature of the “dividing wall” that was torn down through the Messiah. The dividing wall is just a metaphor for the mistrust and enmity that previously existed between Jew and Gentile. In Messiah, those barriers are gone and Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master can co-exist within the Ekklesia while remaining Jewish and Gentile. This is the same thing as a man and woman getting married and remaining male and female within the family.

Now before someone asks, Leman ends his blog post…

By the way, I should say the theory I just put out there concerning the meaning of “law of commandments in decrees” could never be fully verified as it is an example of trying to fill in a gap left by the writer. We can only guess what fills in the gap. The guess that “law of commandments in decrees” means the whole Torah has huge problems, not least of which is that is a strange way of describing Torah as a whole.

My take away from reviewing Kinbar’s, Woods’ and Leman’s work is that the concept of two unique and complementary groups, one made up of Jews and the other of Gentiles, operating within a single Ekklesia, and indeed, providing mutual blessings to one another, is certainly supportable from a Biblical viewpoint that is Israel-focused and Judaically-oriented, and may well represent the Apostle Paul’s original viewpoint.

Adopting that viewpoint requires divorcing ourselves from the more traditional Christian exegetical perspective on Paul in particular and the Bible in general, so that we may attempt to recapture the actual context and meaning of Paul and the other Bible writers, who were attempting to communicate how God’s vast, sweeping redemptive plan for Israel and the nations was to unfold, first through the Torah, then the Prophets, and finally the revelation of Messiah.

Reviews, by their nature, can only capture a snapshot of the works being reviewed. Again, I encourage you to go to Leman’s blog, and to read the articles written by Kinbar and Woods in the current issue of Messiah Journal to get the full message of what they are presenting. While not everyone who reads my blog may agree with what they have to say, you will see that there are compelling counterarguments to the traditions that have been handed down in the Church for so many centuries. I believe those counter-perspectives must be considered and ultimately accepted by believers in order for Jews and Gentiles in the Body of Messiah to apprehend the true meaning of “one new man.”

JerusalemIn Part 1, I said that in order to understand the role and purpose of the Messianic Gentile, we needed to understand the role of the Messianic Jew in the Ekklesia. So what did we Gentiles learn about ourselves? Hopefully, I illustrated that our role is to be joined with Israel, not to become or replace Israel. And as I’ve stated before, our purpose in the Ekklesia, in response to being blessed by the Jewish people and the promises God made to Abraham, is to support and encourage Jewish Torah observance and covenant obedience, for without an Israel oriented toward God, there is no redemption for the world.

Abraham, Ephesians 2, and the Unique Jewish Mission, Part 1

I am writing this article to a specific segment of this generation of Jews: those who follow Messiah Yeshua, whether we are in Messianic congregations, synagogues, churches, groups of various kinds that meet in homes, or not actively part of a group. I call us all “Messianic Jews,” but the name is not important; what counts is our connection with Messiah.

We are members of both the body of Messiah and what Michael Wyschogrod calls “the body of Israel.” It is essential that we fulfill our calling and destiny in both communities.

To be frank, many Messianic Jews, myself included, have avoided speaking openly and in depth about the meaning and significance of Jewish existence because we do not want to inadvertently offend others. For now I want to say that the “tasks begun by the patriarchs” that are now entrusted to this generation of Jews have positive and profound implications for the nations. Therefore, if you are not Jewish, I invite you to pull up a chair and listen in. You are welcome here.

-Carl Kinbar
“The Promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Part 1 of 3” p.34
from Issue 119/Spring 2015 of Messiah Journal

At two separate seminars I attended in 2009, two speakers presented a different interpretation of Ephesians 2:15; they both claimed that the unity of the “one new man” does not imply, let alone require, a flattening of its Jewish and Gentile members into homogeneity. Instead, the unity spoken of in Ephesians 2:14-16 strengthens the case that Jewish identity of Jews who believe in Jesus is fundamental.

-David B. Woods
“One New Man, Part 1 of 2” p.52
from Issue 119/Spring 2015 of Messiah Journal

Regarding the fourth and most common Christian interpretation, Svartvik said something profound: how would that view fit with “peace to those near” in Ephesians 2? In other words, Yeshua came to bring peace to those near (Jewish people) and far (Gentiles). If he came to nullify God’s covenant with Israel, how is this peace with Israel?

Thus, Svartvik offers a fifth and new suggestion: the dividing wall is not physical or tangible, but is exactly what the text says it is, the mistrust and enmity between Jews and Gentiles in the Greco-Roman world in which the apostles founded a movement of faith.

He offers a comparison with another first century text in which a wall is used as a metaphor for something abstract. In 2 Baruch 54:3-5 the image of a wall refers to a block in understanding or perception: “You pull down the enclosure for those who have no experience and enlighten the darkness.”

-Derek Leman
“The Dividing Wall in Ephesians 2”
Published April 9, 2015 at the
Messianic Jewish Musings blog

You may notice that the common thread running through all three of the above-quoted paragraphs (besides Messianic Judaism in general) is the special status and mission of the Jewish people, particularly those who are disciples of Messiah Yeshua, as distinct and separate from the body of believing Gentiles, whether they are affiliated with Christianity, Hebrew/Jewish Roots, or the Messianic Jewish movement.

Derek Leman
Derek Leman

Each article provides an excellent springboard by which to launch ourselves into further investigation of the relationship between Jews and Gentiles who are attached to Yeshua, and to define the unique roles and purposes of each population as we exist within the Ekklesia of Messiah.

When I first started reading Kinbar’s article and saw that he had specifically written it to a Jewish audience, I felt as if I’d opened and was reading someone else’s letter, at least until he invited non-Jews to “pull up a chair” and become part of the audience. For it is in the definition of the special tasks that the current generation of Jews, both in Messiah and otherwise, have inherited from the patriarchs, that we find a contrasting role for “Messianic Gentiles”.

Both Woods and Leman tackle this topic through the lens of Ephesians 2, with Woods addressing the so-called “One New Man” (Ephesians 2:15) made out of two peoples, Jews and Gentiles, and Leman focusing on the breaking down of the “barrier of the dividing wall” (Ephesians 2:14 NASB) that previously separated those two groups but, “by the blood of Christ” (v.13) have been made one.

They both, as you might imagine, disagree with the traditional Christian interpretation of what “one new man” is supposed to mean, or what the result of tearing down the “dividing wall” was supposed to bring about. Christianity believes that annihilating that wall and creating one new man eliminated distinctions between Jews and Gentiles by obliterating Jewish and Gentile identity. The “one new man” was “neither Jew nor Greek” (Galatians 3:28) but an entirely new creation in Jesus Christ.

Except that’s not how these gentlemen interpret these scriptures.

I should also say it is a shame that Paul’s letters can only be read in their Jewish context via a “radical” and “new” perspective. That is, of course, how they should have been read all along. But a few issues have understandably blocked Christian readers from seeing the Jewishness of Pauline letters and Ephesians in particular. To make a complex issue simple let me just list a few things. Paul’s letters do not address Jewish believers and their concerns, but rather his burgeoning Gentile mission of the earliest Yeshua-movement. Paul does not give us a theology of Jewish identity in relation to Messiah Yeshua because that identity was already well-known and assumed in the background. Jewish identity in Messiah remained rooted in the covenants with Abraham and at Sinai and through David, but the coming of Yeshua marked a new stage in God’s revealing his plan to Israel. It was only later, when the church interpreted Paul as saying there was a break away from Sinai and God’s covenant with Israel, that Jews must now become Christians, that the idea occurred that it would become “radical” and “new” to read Paul as a Jewish writer who had not abandoned his prior beliefs and practices.

-Leman (emph. mine)

Carl Kinbar
Rabbi Carl Kinbar

It is difficult to distill an analysis of all three articles into a blog post or two, so I’ll just hit the highlights, so to speak. Also, since both Kinbar and Woods are writing multi-part missives, and the latter submissions are not yet publicly available, the picture you are going to receive here will be, by necessity, incomplete. I encourage you to read Leman’s blog post and acquire copies of Messiah Journal, issue 119 and the subsequent two issues, to read their complete messages.

In order to “flesh out” the role of the “Messianic Gentile” related to Messianic Judaism and the Jewish people (in and out of the movement), it is necessary to understand to some degree, the role and mission of Jewish people as a covenant people within Judaism and as devoted disciples to Messiah.

Our loyalty to Messiah must be so powerfully integrated into our lives that we are simply unable to conceive of life without him. He must be part and parcel of our lives.

At the same time, being Jewish is a fact of our existence: whether we were born Jewish or converted, it is not even possible to “un-Jew” ourselves. To minimize, ignore, or deny this fact is to minimize, ignore, or deny the meaning and significance of our existence. That said, the fullness of our Jewish identity needs to be internalized just as our loyalty to Yeshua does. Our identity as Jews must be part and parcel of our lives.

Our identity as Jews and our loyalty to Messiah must be internalized and brought into harmony.

-Kinbar, p.35

That harmony is not easy to achieve, and I know of at least three Jewish people, one of whom I am very close to, who fully integrated and internalized their Jewish identities by way of entirely dispensing with their devotion to Yeshua.

What Kinbar said reminds me of an article Stuart Dauermann wrote for issue 114 of Messiah Journal called “The Jewish People are Us – Not Them,” which I reviewed nearly eighteen months ago.

In their separate articles, both Kinbar and Dauermann emphasize the vital importance in Messianic Jewish loyalty and affiliation to the Jewish people and national Israel, but while Kinbar makes his points very well regarding Jewish covenant responsibilities to the Torah mitzvot, to their fellow Jews, and to Hashem, what does this say about we Gentiles?

It all seems to come down to Abraham:

Shaul of Tarsus explains how we receive the blessings in Romans 4, where he writes that when Abraham believed God’s promise that he would have a son, God counted his faith as righteousness. Since this took place before Abraham was circumcised, the blessing is not reserved for the circumcised — that is, for Jews. It is available to anyone who follows in Abraham’s footsteps by relying on God, “who raised Yeshua our Lord form the dead, he who was delivered up for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.” Thus, God’s promise statement that he has made Abraham “the father to many nations” is being fulfilled in the body of Messiah…

-ibid, p.40

Kinbar made what I thought was a very interesting point on the same page:

This changed dramatically when Abraham’s name became more broadly known through the distribution of the Apostolic Writings among the nations of the world. In my opinion, it is not an accident that Abraham’s name appears proportionately more often in the Apostolic Writings than in the Tanach.

And again he says:

Were it not for the Apostolic Writings and the body of Messiah, “the families of the earth” would not have known that they may be blessed in Abraham.

But blessed with what? The evidence is in scripture itself as previously quoted above:

“who raised Yeshua our Lord form the dead, he who was delivered up for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.”

MessiahOur faith and the faithfulness of Messiah results in we Gentiles receiving the promise of the resurrection, the forgiveness of sins, and justification before the Almighty. But remember, these promises are universal because they were given to Abraham before the circumcision. There are responsibilities incumbent only upon the Jewish people based on what was promised to Abraham after circumcision and subsequently promised to Isaac and Jacob:

Everyone who is devoted to Messiah should fear God, but Jews and Jewish communities are uniquely entrusted with the tasks begun by the fathers so that we can confirm the promises that God made to them. Engaging in these tasks is part and parcel of the meaning of Jewish existence: to be a source of blessing to the rest of humanity.

-ibid, p.49

So how are we to understand Woods, Leman, and Ephesians 2 in terms of what I’ve written above? For the sake of keeping this “morning meditation” reasonably short and thus of readable length, I’ll save the answer to that question for Part 2.

Review of Loving God When You Don’t Love the Church, Part Two

Why is it that people who have been wounded in church will still be talking about their wounds years later? Why can people forgive a betraying friend or experience a business meltdown and move on with their life, but if it is a church that fails them, it is nearly impossible to let it go? Have you ever seen this dynamic in others? Have you ever lived it yourself?

-Pastor Chris Jackson
from Chapter 3: Church Wounds
Loving God When You Don’t Love the Church: Opening the Door to Healing (Kindle Edition)

Reviewing Pastor Jackson’s book (Here’s the link to Part One) is my way of attempting to respond to what I am calling a pesky challenge to find fellowship and community (or something) with like-minded believers. I’m not sure such a thing is possible for reasons I outlined yesterday, but since a friend asked me to consider it, I suppose I should.

A couple of days ago, Derek Leman wrote the blog post Gentiles Who Feel Left Out which sort of addresses my current situation but not really.

But first things first. To answer Pastor Jackson’s question, a great many Christians who have left the Church and affiliated with Messianic Judaism and/or the Hebrew Roots movements have lived out the dynamic he describes above. And seemingly in response, Leman wrote in the aforementioned blog post:

I also say to disenfranchised non-Jews not to give up on churches. Many have not tried really looking. Some came from churches with certain labels and assume they can only return to those places. Be more open minded. There are churches, often outside of evangelicalism, whose clergy are better educated (evangelicalism is heir to revivalist Christianity and tends to squash intellectual growth).

That may well be true for some Christians and some churches. After all, I’ve read that First Fruits of Zion‘s (FFOZ) HaYesod and Torah Club materials are being taught in churches. I’ve heard that episodes of FFOZ’s television program A Promise of What is to Come are viewed and then discussed in Sunday School classes in some churches. So it’s apparent that there are some Christian churches that are open to this perspective and to “Messianic Gentile” worshipers.

But I’m reviewing Pastor Jackson’s book through the lens of my own experience, so finding “the right church” and fitting in isn’t the entire solution. In fact, it really isn’t a solution at all.

I feel like I’m participating in Pastor Jackson’s statement of talking about my “hurt” months and even years later, but again, I’m only revisiting all this because I was asked. Also, everything has been resolved between me and the church I used to attend to the extent possible. That doesn’t mean there’s going to be reconciliation and return and, relative to my home life, even if I did return, it wouldn’t be helpful.

unworthyPastor Jackson, answering his own question, says “We don’t expect to get hurt in church.” That’s true. At least in an ideal sense, we expect “church” to be a safe place, maybe the safest of places, given how many Christians see secular society as unfriendly or even dangerous to religious people.

I only perceive church as “hazardous” to the degree that, at least in my own recent experience, what I believe is incompatible with how they define “sound doctrine.” Granted, it was only one church, but I do live in a pretty conservative part of the country and religious views in many local churches are also “fundamental”.

Pastor Jackson says one of the problems is that those hurt in churches are never heard. That is, they never get the opportunity to express their side of the story. That’s not the case with me. I had abundant opportunities to be heard by the Head Pastor and he listened to me at length. Jackson asked how there can be healing without closure. I have closure. I made a very definite decision on what to do in leaving church and why I was doing it. The door is closed. It’s over.

The end of chapter questions have to do with being accepting of differences, carrying around anger, and coming to the realization that some of your hurts may be your own doing.

I don’t think I understand the last question:

Do you know that God believes you can make it?

I’m not sure if Jackson means “make it” in life or “make it” in church.

In Chapter 4: The Other Life, Jackson makes an interesting statement:

Religion has left me parched and dry and wondering if it was really what God intended for me when He drew me into the other life.

By “other life,” Jackson means a life of faith and a personal journey with Christ. I find myself closer to God when I’m reading and studying the Bible (or writing this blog), so my “other life” is lived, for the most part, outside of any immediate fellowship. Although I don’t observe a proper Shabbat, I’m usually able to carve out a few hours to study the weekly Torah portion which often is the most rewarding part of my day and week. It’s the closest I come to the “other life”.

I read this next statement of Jackson’s and realized we conceptualize prayer in different ways:

A few weeks ago, I felt like the Lord spoke to me in one of my morning prayer times. I was journaling my thoughts to the Lord and then recording what I felt He was speaking to me in response.

Is that normal? Oh, I get the part about writing my thoughts down. I do that all the time. But writing down what I imagine God is saying back to me? Isn’t that substituting my personality for God?

prayerI’ve never heard audible voices from Heaven but on those occasions when I thought God was trying to tell me something, it was usually through an unusual set of circumstances. That’s what led me to attend that little Baptist church a few miles from my house for two years. I won’t go into the story, but an unlikely set of events occurred that led me to call the Pastor of that church, set up a meeting, and then decide to go to Sunday services. It was so unusual, I just couldn’t chalk it up to coincidence. I felt as if God wanted me to go to that church as a sort of Tent of David experience.

Either I was wrong and God didn’t want me to go to that church or God did want me to go and I blew it. But I’ll never know which one it was.

The Chapter 4 end of chapter questions address hearing the “other life” speaking to you and what it said, whether or not religious life stifled or accentuated that voice, and taking the road less traveled. Nothing that really connected to my experience.

In Chapter 5: Troubled Waters, Jackson says:

A great feeling of personal satisfaction ensures when we are fulfilling the commands of God.

Jackson surely doesn’t realize what a loaded statement that is in Messianic and Hebrew Roots circles when applied to a Christian. He did connect that to “serving our fellow man” which I felt was encouraging, because much of the Biblical message has to do with loving God by serving people. Tikkun Olam or “repairing the world” after all is the Jewish mission and the Church has inherited some of that whether they realize it or not.

Jackson was raised in a Christian home and has fond memories of church:

I know it helped me. I can’t imagine what my life would be like or what temptations I might have fallen into had I not been raised in a Christian home. Church has always been the backdrop of my earliest memories.

I periodically encounter a “life long Christian,” someone who came to faith early in life and who was raised in a Christian home. When I tell them I didn’t come to faith until I was about 40 years old or so, they are almost always astonished. From their point of view, it is inconceivable that someone could live the first half of their life as a “sinner” and then come to faith. It’s funny that Yeshua and Paul never seemed to have an age limit on repentance.

One of my earliest memories was of my parents being water baptized in a swimming pool.

Just thought I’d toss that quote in there.

Jackson includes a number of other pleasant childhood memories about church involvement. He calls it “a flowing current of life that overwhelms us.”

But a few pages later he says:

It’s happening every day, you know. People are leaving the church by the thousands. They’ve tasted what church has to offer and, still dissatisfied, they are abandoning organized Christianity in droves.

quitting churchJackson attributes this mass exodus away from local churches to people being mistreated, misunderstood, or just plain bored. He wisely states:

They’re not searching for a different gospel or a different God–they just want more of Him.

“Get to know Jesus better.” That phrase was used to promote the Torah Club a few years back. I think Jackson is right. I think a lot of Christians are reading the Bible for themselves and realizing that the Bible doesn’t say what they’ve been taught it says from the pulpit or in Sunday School.

In that sense, people may not all be leaving church because they’re hurt but because they’re “hungry”. Jackson says, “Jesus didn’t come to earth to institute a religion–He came to reveal God.” True. Jesus didn’t invent Christianity, he practiced a normative Judaism of his day, specifically Pharisaism (I know a lot of Christians who would be really upset at that statement). The invention of Christianity only came later, much later.

Jesus did come as Prophet and Messiah to reveal God, first to the Jews but ultimately, to the rest of the world.

Jackson doesn’t want that message to be contingent upon what the local church does or fails to do. But he also says:

God created us to be part of a community, and from the beginning He determined that it wasn’t good for man to be alone. We need the Church!

Well, that “not good for man to be alone” addressed Adam and having a suitable “helpmate”, not religious community as such. Also, I believe in Messianic Days the Church as most Christians conceptualize it, will cease to exist and be replaced by Messiah’s ekklesia (which does not translate into “Church” in English). Messiah will define the correct sort of community/communities for his Jewish and Gentile subjects.

At the end of this chapter, Jackson asked four questions, but only the last is relevant:

Do you think this is what Jesus wanted?

If he means the Church as it exists today, I’d have to say “yes and no”. I think he wanted communities of disciples who would obey his commandments to love God and to love others, doing good, feeding the hungry, giving hope to the hopeless, visiting the lonely, making peace in the home, which many churches do, but there’s a lot that has happened in the history of the Church he definitely didn’t and doesn’t want.

He absolutely didn’t want all of the crimes Christianity has committed against the Jewish people and Judaism. How could he? The Bible speaks of the Messiah coming (returning) to defeat Israel’s enemies and to judge those who have harmed his beloved Jewish people. Imagine Jesus judging all of the resurrected Christians across the ages who were taught to hate the Jews, who were taught that the Jews killed Jesus, who participated in burning volumes of Talmud, burning Torah scrolls, burning down synagogues, who tortured, maimed, and murdered countless Jewish people whose only crime was to faithfully cleave to the God of their fathers, and who died in pain while singing the Shema.

No, that isn’t want Jesus wanted, and in the resurrection, there are going to be a lot of shocked and dismayed Christians.

MessiahI realize this wasn’t what Pastor Jackson meant but his focus and mine are different. He’s talking to Christians who have been hurt by other Christians and who have chosen to respond by leaving community. But when you ask me what Jesus wanted out of “the Church,” I have an entirely different viewpoint.

At the end of Chapter 5, I’m still not finding much of what Jackson is writing that speaks to my own experience. If anything, as good a guy as I think Jackson is, what he has recorded in his book simply emphasizes for me how differently he and I understand God, Messiah, and the Bible.

I’ll continue my review in a few days.

Jews, Gentiles, and the Divine Spirit

My father wrote that he heard in the name of the Alter Rebbe that all rabbinic authors until and including the Taz [1] and Shach, [2] composed their works with ruach hakodesh, the Divine Spirit. An individual’s ruach hakodesh, as explained by Korban Ha’eida in Tractate Sh’kalim (Talmud Yerushalmi), end of ch. 3, means that the mysteries of Torah are revealed to him. This comes from the aspect of chochma in its pre-revelation state. [3]

“Today’s Day”
for Tuesday, Sh’vat 6, 5703
Compiled by the Lubavitcher Rebbe; Translated by Yitschak Meir Kagan
Chabad.org

The sacred Zohar teaches that God, the nation Israel, and the Torah, are one. This suggests that God may be experienced through those phenomena that are also perceived to be eternal. Since Israel is eternal [by Divine oath, Genesis 15] and since the Torah is eternal, God/Israel/Torah are inextricably linked by common eternity.

-Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
in his commentary on Parashat Behar-Bechukotai
for May 15, 2012,
published at The Jewish Week

I know today’s “morning meditation” may be a little esoteric for some of you, and I’ve been debating whether or not to even write it. However, I think there’s a certain benefit in visiting the relationship between God, the Torah, and the people and nation of Israel at a more mystic or metaphysical level. God, after all, is not human, so we shouldn’t expect His methods to correspond to human limitations. After all, if God created the Torah, what is it?

It is true that the Zohar writes, “G-d looked into the Torah and created the World”.

Of course, the Torah, in its written form, only briefly describes the process and sequence of Creation. However, we should not think that because of its deceptively brief and general description that the Torah does not contain within the text the plan for the entire multitude of Creation.

-Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman
“Torah Blueprint”
Ohr Somayach

The idea is that there is a Heavenly Torah possessed by God that, when given to the nation of Israel at Sinai, was “clothed” so that it could exist in the material world and be comprehended by human beings. That makes all written Torah scrolls, though immeasurably precious, mere shadows of the supernal Torah of God. Alternately, all earthly scrolls are “encoded” with the information in the Heavenly Torah, and we could read it if we just knew how.

It is said that the world was created for the sake of Torah, but the world would have ceased to exist of the Israelites had refused the Torah at Sinai. Fortunately, this did not take place.

OK, I know what you’re thinking. Many of you are not going to be willing to take the Zohar as an authoritative source of information, and many of you don’t believe there is a supernatural equivalent of the Torah in Heaven that corresponds to the Torah on Earth.

But we know through the Epistle to the Hebrews that there is a Heavenly court that corresponds to the Temple in Jerusalem (when it exists) and God commanded Moses to construct the Mishkan (Tabernacle) according to a model he was shown on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 25:40), indicating that there is a perfect Heavenly version of the Tabernacle Moses was to have constructed in the desert.

Tree of LifeIf the Tabernacle and every single object in it has Heavenly equivalents, including priests, and including a High Priest, why not the Torah?

This would make Israel, that is, the Jewish people and the inheritors of the Torah and the covenant at Sinai particularly unique among all the nations of the Earth. Even the Master said “Salvation comes from the Jews” (John 4:22) illustrating that apart from Israel, no other person or nation can be redeemed and reconciled with God. The means into eternity for the people of the nations is the eternity of Israel.

The Land of Israel shares in this eternity. The earth’s perennial cycle of birth, growth, decay, death and rebirth, express a movement of regeneration and renaissance. There are intimations of immortality: The trees shed their leaves and fruits onto the earth, and when they decompose and merge with the earth, that very earth provides the necessary nutrients for the tree to bear fruit in the future. Plants leave their seeds in the ground, these continue to sprout plant life from the earth after the mother herb has been taken and eaten.

Further, the Land of Israel is invested with a special metaphysical quality which is inextricably linked to Knesset Yisrael, historic Israel. The first Hebrew, Abraham, entered into the “Covenant between the Pieces,” that God’s promise of world peace and messianic redemption will be realized in the City of Jerusalem. Hebron’s Cave of the Couples — Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah — was the very first acquisition by a Jew of land in Israel, purchased as the earthly resting place for the founders of our faith. At the very same time, it is also the womb of our future, a future informed by the ideas and ideals of our revered ancestors. “Grandchildren are the crowning glory of the aged; parents are the pride of their children” [Proverbs 17:6].

-Rabbi Riskin, “The Unity of God, Torah And Israel”

In the quote from “Today’s Day” above, it is said that the Sages of the Talmud were inspired to write by the Holy Spirit. Since Christians believe that only Christians have the indwelling of the Spirit, this is going to seem at least confusing if not outright unbelievable. On the other hand, there’s another covenant to consider:

Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…

Jeremiah 31:31 (NASB)

I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.

Ezekiel 36:27

Given Acts 2:1-4, you’d think that only Jews who are disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) would receive the Holy Spirit, but what if we’re wrong? What if the Sinai Covenant and the fact that the New Covenant being made only with Israel and Judah have a direct impact on both Jewish disciples of Yeshua and the rest of the Jewish people, because God, the Torah, and Israel are one?

I do not agree that mainstream Jews are apostates. I think that is far too strong. In fact, I’ll go one step further, I believe a parallel outpouring of the Spirit has happened among traditional Jews, not unlike the one happening to the congregation of Messiah. Isaiah 59:21, “And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the LORD: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the LORD, “from this time forth and forevermore.””

-Derek Leman
from his comment of
24 January, 2015 at 6:55 am
on his blog post
Double Opposition to Messianic Judaism

I know this stands outside of most of what I consider traditional Christian doctrine, but if God doesn’t abandon His covenants and His people and He always keeps His promises, then we Gentile Christians can hardly dismiss Israel out of hand. In fact, if the redemption of the nations, of we Christians, is solely dependent upon the “oneness” Israel has with the Torah and with God, and if God, according to the New Covenant, will redeem all of Israel (Romans 11:26-27; Isaiah 59:20,21; 27:9 (see Septuagint); Jer. 31:33,34), then maybe one of the things we Gentile believers better get busy at is supporting Jewish observance of the Torah and stop working so hard at trying to convert Jews to Christianity. After all, Ezekiel 36:27 directly links Jewish observance of Torah with God’s Spirit being placed within them.

There is a different way to understand no one comes to the Father except through the Son.

Divine TorahGod will provide the revelation of Messiah to Israel and indeed, this has already begun as evidenced by the modern Messianic Jewish movement. But Messianic Jews are also to be Torah observant Jews. Maybe the main issue at hand isn’t non-Messianic but otherwise observant Jews, but those who are secular, assimilated, and yes, even “Hebrew Christians” who have set aside the Torah for the “promise” of a Gentile version of grace (not that grace and Torah are mutually exclusive…far from it).

God is with His people Israel, all of them. God is also with the Gentile disciples of the Master. None of us has the perfect apprehension of how to best serve God, though often we convince ourselves we possess such a thing. In the end, God will open all our eyes and show us what we saw correctly and what we were blind to. Then God will forgive, and all of the drama and trauma we experience in the world of religion today will just fade to black.

The Spirit is with us. Let us listen to what He is saying.

I know this blog post is probably theologically “sketchy” so I expect some pushback. On the other hand, this is something I felt needed to be said, no matter how imperfectly I said it.

Footnotes

1. Acronym of Turei Zahav on Torah law by R. David Halevi, d. 1667.
2. Acronym of Siftei Kohein on Torah law by R. Shabtai Hacohen, 1622-1663.
3. See “On Learning Chassidus,” Kehot, p. 18.

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.