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FFOZ TV Review: All Foods Clean

All Foods CleanEpisode 23: Most Christians believe that when Mark 7 tells us “thus he declared all foods clean,” that the biblical dietary restrictions were abolished once and for all. In Episode twenty-three viewers will learn that in order to understand these words, it is imperative to look into the Jewish context of the Mark 7 story, and in particular that the argument surrounded not food but ritual hand washing. It will be discovered that the dietary laws are indeed still in force for the Jewish people and will be the menu for the Messianic kingdom.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 23: All Foods Clean (click this link to watch video, not the image above)

The Lesson: The Mystery of All Foods Clean

This episode takes on the traditional Christian doctrine that teaches Jesus abolished the Kosher food laws during his earthly ministry based on the following scripture:

And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)

Mark 7:18-19 (ESV)

I understand something of the background of these scriptures and why they don’t actually prove that Jesus abolished the Kosher laws, but First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) teachers Toby Janicki and Aaron Eby did an excellent job at digging deeper and making points I had never considered before. After watching this episode, I challenge any Christian to continue believing that Jesus declared all foods “Kosher” based on the above quoted verses.

But first things first.

We find the basis for the Jewish Kosher laws in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 which outlines the foods Jews can and cannot eat according to the commandments of God. Toby didn’t mention this, but the basis for how food animals are to be slaughtered is only briefly mentioned in the Torah and thus, a significant amount of Rabbinic interpretation is involved in expanding on this important issue, adding more dimension to what makes an animal Kosher in relation to the method of execution and preparation.

However, as you’re about to discover, the discussion in Mark 7 had nothing to do with Kosher foods at all. In fact, it would have been a contradiction for Jesus to have “declared all foods clean” (Kosher) since in Matthew 5:17 Jesus said he had not come to abolish any of the Torah laws, and in Isaiah 66:17 the prophet said that in the future Messianic Kingdom, it will be an abomination to eat pork or mice (non-Kosher animals).

So if Jesus and the Pharisees weren’t even talking about “keeping Kosher,” what were they talking about?

Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

Mark 7:1-5 (ESV)

Toby has said in at least one prior episode that “context is King,” and we see that illustrated here. The beginning verses of this chapter show us that the Pharisees weren’t accusing Jesus and his disciples of eating pork chops with a side of shrimp scampi. It had to do with eating (bread) with defiled hands, that is, unwashed hands. It had to do with a particular practice that the Pharisees had of ritually washing not only their hands, but many other objects in order to achieve a level of ritual purity. This was completely irrelevant to the issue of Kosher or non-Kosher foods and was a tradition the Pharisees took upon themselves to honor God; a tradition of the elders.

The following is Jesus’ response to the allegations that his disciples didn’t keep the same ritual washing tradition as the Pharisees:

You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!

Mark 7:8-9 (ESV)

Jesus turns the conversation completely around and accuses the Pharisees of being so concerned about non-Biblical traditions involving excessive ritual purity, that they neglected the higher moral laws of the Torah.

That brings us to Toby’s first clue:

Clue 1: The context of Mark 7 is ritual handwashing before eating, not the dietary laws of the Bible.

Toby JanickiThat’s pretty much where I thought Toby was going to go, but what happens next, I didn’t expect and in fact, Aaron’s Hebrew language lesson opened up new information for me, and went a long way to “sealing the deal” that Jesus and the Pharisees weren’t discussing the Kosher laws on any level in Mark 7.

There’s a world of difference in talking about the Kosher food laws and the concept of ritual purity. In Hebrew, the word for ritually clean is “Tahor” and the word for ritually impure is “Tamai.” This has nothing to do with sinning, but it does require a little background to understand the concepts and their relevancy to this discussion.

Aaron told a sort of story in order to illustrate his point. You have to imagine yourself as a Jewish person in the days of Jesus when the Temple was still standing. You are having the Passover meal with a family in Jerusalem. The lamb you will be eating was sacrificed at the Temple and, in order for a Jewish person to eat a Temple Sacrifice, that person has to be Tahor or ritually pure. This isn’t a requirement for having any Kosher meal, only for eating a Temple Sacrifice.

Aaron said that if one of the guests at the meal were to suddenly pass away, just the presence of a corpse at the Passover meal would render everything, including the people in attendance, as Tamai. They would no longer be able to eat the Passover lamb because they would be in a state of ritual impurity.

Again, this has nothing to do with sin. No one did anything wrong. There are many conditions listed in the Torah that could make a person Tamai. A woman who gives birth or who has her monthly period is considered Tamai. A man who has had typical marital relations with his wife is considered Tamai. That doesn’t mean they’ve done anything wrong, and it doesn’t mean they can’t eat anything, but one thing it does mean is that until they perform the rituals listed in the Bible to again become Tahor, they can not eat any Temple Sacrifice.

Aaron describes the procedure for returning to ritual purity, which you can get from the episode, but comprehending the meaning of Tahor and Tamai is critical to understanding the discussion in Mark 7.

It’s important to note that cycles of being Tahor and Tamai were a typical part of a Jewish human experience and even Jesus would have been Tamai and Tahor depending on a variety of circumstances. It has nothing to do with sin and a great deal to do with involvement in Temple ceremonies in ancient Israel for a Jewish person. Normal Kosher food can either be Tahor or Tamai, but as long as it’s not part of a Temple Sacrifice, it’s OK for a Jewish person to eat Tamai bread. There’s no sin.

Aaron EbyThis next part is the key (and I’d love to see Toby and Aaron’s source material on this matter – – bibliography, please). The Pharisees who confronted Jesus and his disciples in Mark 7 kept a particular practice where they treated every meal as if it were a Temple Sacrifice. This required them to exist in a constant state of ritual purity or be continually Tahor. They had to enter the mikvah and otherwise practice many ritual purity washings in all aspects of their day-to-day existence. This was absolutely not required by the Torah and had nothing to do with the Kosher laws, but was their way of honoring God, though God didn’t obligate them or any Jew to do so.

To maintain a constant state of ritual purity, the Pharisees (I don’t know if all Pharisees kept this practice or only some) had to avoid all contact with other Jews who did not keep the same excessive level of purity (and contact with Gentiles on any level was completely out of the question). These Pharisees led very complicated lives where even having a meal involved a great deal of preparation and would have been very difficult to maintain.

Back in the studio, Toby uses Aaron’s teaching to produce the second clue:

Clue 2: Mark 7 involves a sectarian preference of the Pharisees and not a Biblical requirement.

At this point, it should be abundantly clear that Mark 7 can’t be used as a proof text for the extinction of the Kosher laws at the hands of Jesus, but we have a problem.

…since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.)

Mark 7:19 (ESV)

We have a statement in parenthesis saying that Jesus declared all foods clean. Toby read from a variety of different Bible translations but only the King James Version translates this verse literally and omits any mention of Jesus declaring all foods or meats kosher or pure.

The words in parenthesis were added by the translators and are not in any of the original Greek texts. Toby was generous and said the translators were just trying to clarify the verse, but what they actually did was to impose their theology onto the Bible by adding words to it (which I think both the Torah and New Testament take a dim view of).

I’ll omit posting all of the different translation examples used by Toby except for the following:

He said to them, “Are even you lacking discernment? Do you not comprehend that whatever comes within a person from the outside of him does not contaminate him? For it does not come into his heart, but rather into his stomach, and it goes out to the toilet, which cleanses all that is eaten.”

Mark 7:18-19 (DHE Gospels)

Here, Jesus accuses the Pharisees of being completely out of balance, giving ultimate importance to a man-made standard of excessive ritual purity while neglecting the moral implications of the Bible. The Pharisees were nearly obsessed with avoiding eating anything Tamai which, for non-Temple Sacrificed food, would not affect their relationship with God and would literally pass into the toilet, as opposed to ignoring the Torah commandments and thus becoming morally impure, those things that enter the heart and result in “evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22 ESV).

Clue 3: The words “Jesus declared all foods clean” are not in the original Greek text.

This should go a long way in establishing to everyone familiar with these verses that they cannot possibly be interpreted the way the Church as typically understood them. The phrase about Jesus declaring all foods clean is a tragic example of the Christian church in all it’s denominations across much of history favoring man-made traditions (traditions of the elders) and ignoring the actual words of the Bible in their proper context.

kosher eatingThis is an excellent example of why I’m a Christian who studies Messianic Judaism. The vast majority of Christian teachers would have not understood this point at all.

Toby quickly mentions that even though the Kosher laws were not done away with, that doesn’t mean Gentile Christians have to suddenly start separating their milk and meat products. The Kosher laws are applied to the Jewish people, while the only food restrictions for Gentile Christians are found in Acts 15 (and how the “Jerusalem letter” is understood would be a worthy study for a future episode of this show).

Toby also said that in the Messianic Era, the whole world (Jews and Gentiles alike) will be eating Kosher, which probably doesn’t sound like good news to most of the Christians who read my blog. How that works would also have to be covered in another FFOZ TV show since it represents another mystery.

What Did I Learn?

Aaron’s lesson and how Toby applied it was completely new to me. I had some understanding of the concepts of Tahor and Tamai, but I had no idea of the excessive levels of ritual purity practiced by the Pharisees of Mark 7 vs. Tahor and Tamai in relation to ordinary Kosher meals. I know most Christians will try to find a way around this, but for me, it was another example of how this show presents very tight arguments that help us correctly understand the Gospels from their original, apostolic perspective.

I found myself wishing Toby had tossed in a clue or two about Acts 10, since that’s the other major part of scripture used by Christians to “prove” that God did away with the Kosher laws. But then I remembered this:

You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean (emph. mine).

Acts 10:28 (NRSV)

If you recall, earlier I said that the excessive level of ritual purity kept by the Pharisees in Mark 7 would make it impossible to have any sort of association with Gentiles, even to the point of entering their homes. Merely being in a non-Jewish home would pose a great risk of a Jew becoming Tamai for a number of reasons. Now this represents no sin, but for the Pharisees, who could not even eat a single meal in a state of Tamai, it would be exceptionally difficult to have relations with Gentiles.

But what about Peter? We already know that Jesus didn’t require his disciples to keep a level of ritual purity matching the Pharisees.

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them (emph. mine).

Mark 7:1-2 (NRSV)

The text says that only some of Jesus’ disciples ate with unwashed hands, not all of them. Was Peter one of the Jewish disciples of Jesus who did keep a higher level of ritual purity, treating all meals as if he had to be Tahor to eat them? Was this excessive standard of purity considered the de facto standard among Jews until Jesus taught his disciples otherwise?

I don’t know, but since I do know the Torah does not say that it is unlawful for a Jew to “associate with or to visit a Gentile,” the fact that Peter was saying those words and his Jewish companions seemed to be aligned with this belief tells me it’s quite possible Peter kept some of these excessive purity laws (and I should mention that the tradition of washing hands, called Netilat Yadayim, is practiced by some observant Jews today).

Now the apostles and the believers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also accepted the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?”

Acts 11:1-3 (NRSV)

Here we see Peter being confronted by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem, the Jerusalem Council, which could very well have included James, the brother of the Master, and they were very surprised that Peter was associating with Gentiles. This confrontation seems to support that the apostles and brothers in Jerusalem also had adopted a higher set of standards of ritual purity than Jesus and the Torah required. This is very important in understanding the following:

But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood self-condemned; for until certain people came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Galatians 2:11-14 (NRSV)

Apparently, Peter had become accustomed to eating and associating with Gentiles, that is, until some “certain people” showed up, probably important representatives from James and the apostolic council in Jerusalem. We can’t be certain of the sequence of events, but Galatians was probably written before Acts 15. However, did Peter already have his encounter with Cornelius in Acts 10? It seems likely if he initially was OK with associating with Gentiles, but he obviously struggled with the level of ritual purity and tradition he felt he needed to keep, and how it would look to James and the brothers in Jerusalem. He was influenced by peer pressure, unlike Paul, who was a lot more comfortable with being a Jewish man in close proximity to Gentiles, and knowing that did not make him unacceptable to God as a Jew.

DHE Gospel of MarkAgain and again, in all the so-called Christian “proof texts” which seem to abolish the Kosher laws, we see that the topic isn’t about Kosher foods at all, but rather how some Jews, including possibly Peter, kept a higher than necessarily level of ritual purity, and how that specific preference could be used to discriminate against the Gentile believers by “requiring” Gentiles in the body of Messiah not to be permitted to associate with believing Jews (at least those who kept this higher standard).

Sure, some of this is supposition on my part, but given all of the solid scriptural evidence of the maintaining of the Kosher laws for the Jewish people of the apostolic era (and by inference, among modern Jews today, including modern believing Jews), I think I make a good case in explaining the “food” issues of Acts 10 and Galatians 2. Some of my conclusions are also derived from the opinions and research of New Testament scholar and author Mark Nanos, which I’ve previously recorded on this blog.

I know some Christians who express great joy at not “being under the Law” and who would be pretty dismayed at my conclusions, but as Toby said, there’s nothing in the Bible that tells us non-Jewish Christians must keep the Kosher laws. The Didache, an early document dated to the second or even first centuries and purportedly used to train new Gentile disciples of the Jewish Messiah entering the Jewish religious stream of “the Way,” offers no requirement or even mention of the Kosher laws as applied to non-Jewish believers, and only stresses that the Gentiles should avoid meats sacrificed to idols (which mirrors the Acts 15 directives to Gentile disciples). While I think any non-Jewish believer can take on board additional Torah mitzvoth, including Kosher, voluntarily (and the Didache also supports this), it’s voluntary and a matter of conviction between the person and God.

Just remember that the Pharisees also kept a standard of observance that was higher than what God required of them as well, and it resulted in them becoming so focused on those excessive standards that they ended up ignoring what actually was required of them. If you, as a Christian, feel you want to modify your eating habits to reflect some level of Kosher or Kosher-like observance, just remember that such observance by a Gentile believer will never be as important to God as what is required of us, “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).

Final note: this is probably a good time to mention that there are only three more episodes in the series available for me to review. Given the value I’ve found in what I’ve seen so far, I hope the folks at FFOZ consider producing more shows in this excellent television series soon.

FFOZ TV Review: Fringes of the Garment

FFOZ TV Episode 22Episode 22: In the gospel story of the woman with the hemorrhage of blood, she is healed by touching the fringe of Jesus’ cloak. By touching Jesus’ fringe, the woman was acting upon the prophetic nature of an important biblical commandment. Episode twenty-two will introduce the commandment in Numbers for Jewish men to put fringes on the corners of their garments to remind them of God’s instructions. Viewers will then see how this all ties into the prophetic words of Zechariah about ten men from the nations grabbing a hold of the fringe of a Jew.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 22: Fringes of the Garment (click this link to watch video, not the image above)

The Lesson: The Mystery of Fringes of the Garment

This is a particular mystery I originally thought I had a pretty good handle on and one that traditional Christians would generally find missing in their educational database. What First Fruits of Zion teachers Toby Janicki and Aaron Eby presented was at least a little different from I expected. Parts of the lesson were considerably different.

But first things first.

Today’s “Biblical mystery” originates in the following text:

And behold, a woman who had suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment, for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I will be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.

Matthew 9:20-22 (ESV)

Toby used the English Standard Version of the Bible for his reading. While I tend to prefer the New American Standard Version, after comparing the two translations of this scripture side-by-side, I understood why he made the selection he did (besides the fact that FFOZ defaults to the ESV translation as a matter of course). I also realized why Toby didn’t use the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels for the reading, since it would have given away too much too fast.

Why did the woman with the “discharge of blood” seek healing specifically by touching “the fringe of his (Jesus’) garment?” What made her think that would stop years of bleeding? Was it just some sort of anomalous or random choice on her part? As it turns out, she wasn’t the only one to believe that touching “fringes” would produce a healing result:

And wherever he came, in villages, cities, or countryside, they laid the sick in the marketplaces and implored him that they might touch even the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were made well.

Mark 6:56 (ESV)

As it turns out, a lot of Jewish people believed that touching the fringe of Jesus’ garment would heal them. I’d completely missed this on my numerous read-throughs of the Bible and am grateful to Toby for pointing this out.

But most Christians wouldn’t understand the significance of the “fringes” of the clothing of a Jewish man in the late Second Temple era (or today, for that matter). “Fringes” makes it sound like people were touching a hem or edge of whatever Jesus was wearing. Why would that heal?

This is where even a little understanding of the Law of Moses comes in handy.

Speak to the Children of Israel and say to them that they shall make themselves tzitzis on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations. And they shall place upon the tzitzis of each corner a threat of turquoise wool. It shall constitute tzitzis for you, that you may see it and remember all the commandments of Hashem and perform them; and not explore after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray. So that you may remember and perform all My commandments and be holy to your God.

Numbers 15:38-40 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Toby JanickiWhile Toby continued to use the ESV translation, I’m using a much more Jewish source for this scripture. The original Hebrew word for what we read translated in the New Testament as “fringes” is “tzitzit” (“tzitzis” in the Ashkenazi pronunciation). When we get to Aaron Eby’s portion of the program, we’ll learn what tzitzit are, but at this point in the show, Toby tells us that these “fringes” were a response to the commandment in Numbers 15 and that being on a Jewish man’s garment did two things:

  1. The fringes served as a reminder to the Jewish wearer of all of the commandments of God.
  2. The fringes served as a reminder to anyone seeing the wearer that this person was a Jew who was obedience to the God of Israel, since no other people were given the commandment of tzitzit or the Torah of Moses.

And lest you think that the fringes on Jesus’ garments weren’t really tzitzit because that commandment wasn’t being observed by Jewish men in that age, consider this:

For they widen their tefillin and lengthen their tzitziyot.

Matthew 23:5 (DHE Gospels)

“Tzitziyot” is the plural of “tzitzit” in Hebrew, and here we see Jesus criticizing some of the Pharisees for dramatically displaying the length of their fringes as well as the straps of their tefillin or phylacteries (the wearing of tzitzit and tefillin is still practiced by observant Jewish men today).

This brings us to our first clue in solving today’s Biblical mystery:

Clue 1: Jesus had fringes on the corners of his garment in obedience to the Numbers 15 commandment.

Now the scene shifts to Aaron Eby in Israel for a brief Hebrew language lesson on the Hebrew words for “fringe” and “corner.”

Aaron EbyAs I mentioned above, the word translated as “fringe” or “tassel” in some English Bibles is actually the Hebrew word “tzitzit” (plural: “tzitziyot”, although as Aaron says, English speakers use “tzitzit” often for both singular and plural).

The Hebrew word for “corner” in the context of a garment, is “kanaf.” Tzitzit are cords of wool (usually). The string of blue colored thread (sometimes translated as “turquoise”) was made from a very specific process that is thought by most observant Jews to be lost (which is why most tzitzit today are completely white), although some Jewish people think it has recently been rediscovered.

In ancient times, a man’s garment would be like a sort of “poncho” and had four actual corners on the bottom. On each corner, tzitzit would be tied. Today, men’s garments lack this structure, so most Jewish men wear what Christians call a “prayer shawl” and what Jews call a Tallit Gadol (large tallit). Most, if not all, observant Orthodox Jews will wear an undergarment throughout the day called a Tallit Katan (small tallit) in addition to donning a Tallit Gadol during worship and prayer in order to be obedient to the Numbers 15 commandment and for the same reasons I listed above.

Aaron said that according to Deuteronomy 22:12, the tzitzit must be on the corners of the garment. No other location on a Jewish man’s clothing is in obedience to the commandment of God. Thus, some non-Jewish men in certain areas of the Hebrew or Jewish Roots movement who choose to tie tzitzit on their belt loops are actually in scriptural error (not to mention that the commandment was specifically given to the Israelites and their modern-day descendants, the Jewish people).

What was more interesting to me was Aaron’s explanation of the word “Kanaf.” It can mean both “corner” as in the corner of a man’s garment, or “wings”.

He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant. Spread your wings over your servant, for you are a redeemer.”

Ruth 3:9 (ESV)

Since Boaz didn’t likely have actual bird’s wings, Ruth was more likely asking (assuming she was being literal) that Boaz spread some portion of his cloak over her, protecting her from sight (though it could also be understood in a more general sense as a request for protection since she referred to him as “redeemer”).

Aaron said that Kanaf could be understood not only as the corner of a cloak or other garment, but specifically the attachment point of the tzitzit and the garment’s corner. This leads to the idiomatic meaning of “touching the corner” (kanaf) as “touching the tzitzit,” which is probably what the woman in Matthew 9:20-22 was actually doing.

Back in the studio, Toby provides the next clue:

Clue 2: Fringes are called tzitzit and the Hebrew word for corner is kanaf.

But we still have our mystery. Why would anyone believe that touching the tzitzit on Jesus’ garment would cause healing to occur?

But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings.

Malachi 4:2 (ESV)

MessiahThat’s “sun” s-u-n, not “son” s-o-n, and yet this prophesy about the coming Messianic age is really discussing the Messiah. There are other portions of scripture that refer to the Messiah with the term “Sun” including Revelation 1:16, and Malachi specifically states that Messiah shall rise with healing in its (his) wings.”

Toby concludes that when the woman with the issue of blood and all the others touched the Master’s tzitzit and expected to be healed, they were considering the prophesy of Malachi 4:2 and displaying their faith in Jesus as Messiah. When Jesus told the woman who had moments before stopped bleeding, that her faith had healed her, in this interpretation, he wasn’t referring to her faith in God as such, but her specific faith in him, in Jesus as the Messiah.

Toby went on to reference another important Messianic scripture:

Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’”

Zechariah 8:22-23 (ESV)

Toby should have made this part of a fourth clue, since it doesn’t directly reference the theme of the other three (and I don’t mind departing from the format of three clues per mystery from time to time), and it says something very important. In fact, in order to teach this part of the lesson, Toby twice had to say that it was a specific belief and teaching of the First Fruits of Zion ministry, so a viewpoint that might not be found in general Christian doctrine or even in other expressions of Messianic Judaism.

Toby said that the ten men of the nations specifically represented believers from all the (non-Jewish) nations of the earth, “the Church,” (this point is important and I’ll explain it further in a minute), grasping (metaphorically) the tzitzit, not just of any Jewish man, but of one specific Jewish man, Messiah. The number of men is also significant since, in Judaism, ten men (almost always ten Jewish men) form a minyan or a quorum. A minyan must be present for any group to engage in davening during the set times of prayer or for the ark to be opened and the Torah to be carried out for reading during a Shabbat service.

Here, Toby tells us that this is a prophesy and a sign of Christian belief and faith in the God of Israel and a desire to become a part of the Messianic Kingdom.

What Did I Learn?

Actually, I learned the most from Toby’s “fourth clue.” I had always understood the passage from Zechariah as a prophesy that the people of the nations (not necessarily Christians, but unbelievers who were coming to faith) would turn to Jewish people for an understanding of God and to come to faith in the Messianic Age, going up to Jerusalem to pay homage to King Messiah, to Jesus. The scripture specifically mentions “ten men from the nations,” which indicates only Gentiles and no Jews, but Toby said that the prophesy references “the Church” turning to the Jewish Messiah.

moshe_tzitzitMy Pastor defines “the Church” as the Gentile and Jewish people who have come to faith in Jesus, so logically, Toby can’t be correct in equating “the Church” with only Gentile Christians, that is, unless he is saying that he (and First Fruits of Zion) defines the Church as only Gentile Christians, and Jews in Messiah, Messianic Jews, as another entity, more a Judaism than a Christianity.

I know that Messianic Judaism does typically support distinctions between Jews and Gentiles in the Body of Messiah, but the Body must still be unified in Messiah. Toby’s brief statement is pregnant with implications, and some of them rather daunting, that FFOZ may consider Messianic Judaism as completely detached from Gentile Christianity.

I find this difficult to believe, since I’ve heard FFOZ President and Founder Boaz Michael speak at length about the Jewish and Gentile unity in the Body of Messiah, and maybe I’m reading far more into Toby’s statement than I should. Maybe he misspoke himself when he said “the Church” and he meant “Gentile Christians.” I don’t know. I know that whenever I post a link to one of my FFOZ TV reviews on Facebook, Toby “likes” it, but I don’t know if he ever reads my reviews. If he does, I would hope he’d chime in on some social networking venue and correct any misunderstanding I may have about what he was teaching.

One way I could interpret this part of his teaching is that Toby was trying to say that by having ten men from the nations (Gentile Christians) grasping the tzitzit of Messiah, we Christians would be making a fundamental paradigm shift from traditional Church theology and doctrine, to one more in line with a Messianic Jewish perspective, looking through a Jewish lens in order to read the Bible and to see Messiah for who he really is: the Jewish Messiah King.

Although I rarely mention it in my reviews, during each episode of this series, there is a segment promoting First Fruits of Zion’s FFOZ Friends program, a series of support channels anyone can sign up for to provide a specific level of contribution to the ministry in exchange for access to hardcopy and online learning resources.

This time, I listened to this part of the program with rapt attention, especially the words (I’m paraphrasing):

Teachings that have been lost since the time of the apostles.

That’s part of how FFOZ promotes its educational materials and its general understanding and perspective on the Bible. That connects back to what I said above about Zechariah 8 and the sign that in the Messianic Era, Christianity would experience a significant shift in perspective from its current theological and doctrinal positions to one more aligned with Messianic Judaism.

If all this is true, then FFOZ is gently trying to promote the beginnings of such a shift in the Church now through its FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come television program. I know from my own experiences in my local church, that such an effort is easier said than done and truly may require the Messiah’s second coming to accomplish.

prophetic_return1One thing Toby might have missed in his Malachi reference is that the “healing” we’ll experience as “the Church” in the Messianic Age may be the nearly two-thousand years of enmity and schism between Christianity and Judaism. I think Toby was a little quick to jump from the single verse in Malachi 4:2 and assign it a specific meaning in the late Second Temple period, since it seems to mean so much more. I know that prophesy can be applied to more than one event, but the link from Malachi to Matthew and Mark was pretty abrupt and I would have preferred a longer trail and more explanation supporting that link.

I take more from Toby’s “fourth clue” that someday, “the Church,” or rather, the Gentiles therein (and the “gentilized” Hebrew Christians who are missing out on the blessings of Torah observance), will have their eyes opened and realize that their faith in Jesus is actually the devotion of the people of the nations to the God of Israel and the Jewish King who will one day rule forever in Jerusalem. We will gather on that day, we, the people of the nations who are called by His Name, alongside God’s treasured and splendorous people, the Jewish people, bend our knee to the King, and worship Israel’s God in spirit and in truth.

FFOZ TV Review: Foretaste of the Kingdom

FFOZ TV episode 21Episode 21: The Apostle Paul calls the Sabbath a “shadow of things to come.” Most people usually think of it as a shadow of things from the past. However, viewers will learn in episode twenty-one that the Sabbath is a foreshadow of things still yet to come. Jesus and the Sabbath both provide rest and the Sabbath rest is a taste of the final rest we will have in the Messianic Era when Messiah returns to set up his kingdom. Thus for those who still observe the Sabbath today, it is a promise of what is to come, the Messianic Age.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 21: Foretaste of the Kingdom (click this link to watch video, not the image above)

The Lesson: The Mystery of the Sabbath Rest

First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) teacher and author Toby Janicki starts out the exploration of this mystery with what most of us consider to be a familiar lesson from Jesus:

Turn to me, all who labor and are burdened, and I will cause you to rest. Accept upon yourself my yoke and learn from me, for I am humble and lowly in spirit, and you will find a resting place for your souls. For my yoke is pleasant and my burden light.

Matthew 11:28-29 (DHE Gospels)

There’s a lot we think we know about this teaching. We think we know that Jesus wants us to believe in him so that becoming a Christian will provide our souls rest. We think he means that his yoke, his grace, is a pleasant and light “burden” when compared to the Law of Moses. We think that Jesus is always humble and lowly rather than being like the vengeful God of the Old Testament.

But we’re probably not correct, at least not entirely. One of the points Toby made (and he’s made it before, is that when we use improper Biblical exegesis, we often come up with incorrect theology. That statement most likely won’t make some Christian readers happy since once taught, the traditional theology is the Church is set in stone. But sometimes examining a familiar view from an unfamiliar perspective yields new insights.

So too with this continuation of the investigation of the Sabbath, which was begun in the previous episode which I reviewed last week.

So if what we typically understand about the “rest” being described by Jesus isn’t correct, then, from a Messianic Jewish perspective, what is it?

So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience.

Hebrews 4:9-11 (NASB)

Toby says that there’s a link between Matthew 11:28-29 and Hebrews 4:9-11. They both talk about a “rest,” though in the case of the writer of Hebrews, it’s specifically a Shabbat rest. Toby leads his audience through a small Bible study on Hebrews 4:

Therefore, let us fear if, while a promise remains of entering His rest, any one of you may seem to have come short of it. For indeed we have had good news preached to us, just as they also; but the word they heard did not profit them, because it was not united by faith in those who heard.

Hebrews 4:1-2 (NASB)

Toby JanickiAccording to Toby, the writer of the book of Hebrews is referring to that first generation of Israelites who left Egypt and died in the wilderness.

They too had a rest they could have entered, the rest of the Promised Land, Israel. But they did not due to lack of faith. Toby next presents verses 3 and 4 as connecting this rest to the Sabbath:

For we who have believed enter that rest, just as He has said,

“As I swore in My wrath,
They shall not enter My rest,”

although His works were finished from the foundation of the world. For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: “And God rested on the seventh day from all His works”

The writer of Hebrews is actually quoting Exodus 20:11 which is the commandment of observing the Sabbath. But verses 9 through 11 are not specifically referring to the seventh day Sabbath or the rest represented by entering the Land of Israel. Verse 9 says “there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God.” What rest is that?

According to Toby, these passages are sometimes used by Christians to “prove” that Jesus is our spiritual rest so we don’t need to observe an actual, physical day of rest, neither Gentile Christians nor any Jewish person. But the writer of Hebrews is clearly referring to something in the future, not something that’s already happened. If Hebrews 4 links back to the “rest” which Jesus was teaching about in Matthew 11, then we have reached our first clue.

Clue 1: The rest that Jesus offers us is something that is in the future.

Verses 10 and 11 in Hebrews 4 is a warning not to be disobedient to God as were the first generation of Israelites who disobeyed by refusing to enter the Land of Promise. Obedience of the people of God is required for them…for us to be able to enter into that future rest of Jesus. But again, what rest is that? To us, this represents a Biblical mystery, but to the original audience listening to Jesus or the original Jewish readers of Matthew’s gospel, it was probably self-evident. How would they have understood the word “rest,” which in Hebrew is “Menuchah?”

To answer that question, the scene shifts to FFOZ teacher and translator Aaron Eby in Israel. Aaron first reads from a portion of the Siddur (Jewish prayer-book) which describes the Shabbat as a rest of “love, willingness, truth, faith, peace, tranquility, stillness, trust,” and “a complete rest in which you find favor.”

Clearly, the concept of Shabbat is more than just relaxing in front of the tube or playing a few rounds of golf.

ffoz_tv21_aaronRest is used in a somewhat different context in the Bible. Aaron quoted from Deuteronomy 12:19 referring to Israel, 1 Chronicles 22:9 which refers to Solomon as “a man of rest” and a King who will reign over a nation experiencing rest, peace, and quiet, and 1 Kings 8:56 which is part of Solomon’s dedication of the Temple. These images represent the age of Messianic redemption and the Temple is a portrait of the fulfillment of all the Messianic promises. Aaron also links this to the poetic language of the Rabbis who consider the weekly Shabbat to be a tiny fraction of what will be experienced in the age to come…a forestate of the Kingdom of God.

Back in the studio with Toby, we receive the next clue:

Clue 2: The Sabbath rest is a foretaste of the rest in the Messianic Era.

I can certainly see why the seventh-day Sabbath rest is considered a blessing of both physical and spiritual rest for observant Jews. Not only is it a day to rest in the holiness and peace of God in our age, but it is a miniature representation of the full and complete rest that will be experienced when Messiah reigns in Jerusalem and over all the world, an age of total, worldwide peace.

But in traditional Christian interpretation, we encounter a problem:

Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.

Colossians 2:16-17 (NASB)

I mentioned these verses among others in my review last week as the “Christian defense” against acknowledging an ongoing Shabbat observance or any such keeping of a Sabbath in the future. When I typically hear language like “type and shadow” in a Christian context, it usually means that such “shadows” came to point us to Jesus, but now that he’s come, the shadows are no longer necessary. However, that interpretation is filtered through a great deal of Protestant tradition and ignores what Paul is actually saying.

Paul said that the Sabbath is a “mere shadow of what is to come,” not what has already come. If, at his first coming, Jesus “fulfilled” the requirement of the Shabbat, then why does Paul refer to the future?

Also, and I’d like to thank Toby for bringing this up, let’s talk about this “shadow” thing. Again, the typical Church teaching on a “shadow” is that it’s basically something of limited usefulness and utility, and was only a poor imitation of something that the Jewish people had to make do with until Christ. Once Christ came, the shadows were eliminated by the “light of the world” and what was temporary then passed away.

Shabbat candlesWhat is a shadow? In a common context, it’s just an area where light is being blocked by an object in between a light source and whatever the light happens to be shining at. A shadow generally renders the shape of the object blocking the light. If Jesus is the “substance” or body of the shadow, then, to extend the metaphor, the Sabbath is “Jesus-shaped.”

If we put all this together, then the Sabbath day is a “shape” or “outline” of something with more substance that will occur in the future and has something to do with the “body” of Messiah. Since that future event has yet to occur, we still exist in the shadow or rather, the seventh-day Shabbat still has purpose and meaning as an image of something even greater and more peaceful to come. Jesus has not replaced the Sabbath and perhaps he never will. In the future, he will fill to complete fullness what we only have a taste of in the current age.

Toby related a number of Talmudic references I’ll pass over (please view the actual episode to get those details) but concludes, using Rabbinic and poetic language, that such concepts link both to 2 Peter 3:8 and Revelation 20:1-6 in describing the thousand-year Messianic reign of Jesus. This is the third and final clue:

Clue 3: The Sabbath foreshadows the coming thousand-year reign of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The rest Jesus was talking about is the Messianic Era, and all who are devoted disciples of Messiah and worshipers of the God of Israel will enter that promised rest when Messiah returns to take up his throne. But we must remain faithful to the end in order to enter that rest.

What Did I Learn?

Something rather poignant. There are a couple of sequences in every episode of the FFOZ TV show that describe the learning materials and other products available through First Fruits of Zion. One of the things this show is supposed to inspire is a desire in the viewers to want to learn more, which can be accomplished through the many fine resources provided by FFOZ.

But in one of these sequences, the voice over said that a “prophetic restoration is sweeping through the Christian world.” I don’t see anything like that “sweeping” through my little corner of the Christian world. I’m glad it’s happening to someone somewhere.

I was also reminded of last Erev Shabbat. My wife made several loaves of Challah and she once again brought out the Shabbos candles…but she was late. My little reminder in Google calendar said that candle lighting began at 4:56 p.m. and at that time, the candles still hadn’t been ignited. I casually mentioned this to her and received a surprisingly sharp rebuke in return. Why should I, a Gentile Christian (she didn’t actually call me that), be keeping track of when Shabbat candle lighting is? She had abruptly (and not for the first time) put up a “Keep Out” sign over the entryway to Shabbat in our home.

She subsequently lit the candles but did not invite me to be present.

“Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.”

Matthew 10:34-36 (NASB)

But a husband against a wife, Master?

“So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.”

Matthew 19:6 (NASB)

I should say that in every other area, the missus and I get along and address a wide range of concerns and shared experiences. It’s just this one place, this religious place, where we are segregated and our worlds keep us apart. I know that, for a variety of reasons, she has good cause to be defensive, but I can’t say that it doesn’t still sting a bit for me to be relegated to one world where our faith is concerned, while my wife inhabits another.

Boaz in ChinaSo it is for many other Christians and Jews in the present age, when many Jewish people see Shabbat as a blessing exclusively for the Jews and to be jealously guarded against outsiders (even if they’re in the same home), and most Christians have no desire to participate in a “shadow” that has long since been replaced by Jesus on the cross.

An “exploration of the Christian faith from a Jewish perspective,” Boaz Michael said at the end of the episode. It’s what I’ve recently dedicated myself to, but it seems a journey I am destined to take alone, and a territory I’m trespassing in as an uninvited foreigner.

If I am to believe prophesy, then I am assured that one day, I will become a welcome stranger in that strange land, but in the current age, the citizens of that country, at least the “citizen” I am closest to, does not permit my entry, nor do my own “countrymen,” the people of the Church, believe my travel plans are valid. I can only trust that one day my determination will be justified. Otherwise, I must accept that my role is to escort the Jewish exiles back to their Land and their heritage, to the foot of the Throne of Messiah, and then I must turn around as the celebration begins, and retreat to where my Master would have me go.

FFOZ TV Review: What Day is the Sabbath?

FFOZ TV episode 20Episode 20: It is often thought that somewhere in the New Testament the Sabbath was changed from Saturday to Sunday. But did the unchangeable God really change the day of rest? In episode twenty viewers will learn that not only has the Sabbath day not changed but Jesus himself was faithful to keep it and taught about it. The Sabbath is an eternal covenantal sign between Israel and God. Thus, while Gentiles are not required to keep it, they are welcomed to do so throughout the Scriptures.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 20: What Day is the Sabbath? (click this link to watch video, not the image above)

The Lesson: The Mystery of the Sabbath

I thought this episode would just be a “rehash” of material I already knew about the Sabbath. To some degree it was, but First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) teachers Toby Janicki and Aaron Eby managed to flesh out the meaning of the Shabbat for the nation of Israel and to some degree, Christianity as well. Since this show primarily is addressed to traditional Gentile believers, no doubt some of the material came as a bit of a surprise.

Toby starts out relating his Sunday school experience as a child when he was required to memorize the Ten Commandments. This, of course, includes the fourth commandment to observe the Sabbath. Many Christians believe that the Ten Commandments are still in effect for the Church, but either disregard the Sabbath entirely, or believe it was changed from Saturday to Sunday, and that all of the Torah restrictions involving work on the (Sunday) Sabbath were eliminated by Jesus.

Toby asks the questions, “Why don’t Christians keep the Sabbath,” “Was the Sabbath changed from Saturday to Sunday,” and “Is the Sabbath even valid anymore?”

And he said to them, “Shabbat was given for the sake of man, and not man for the sake of the Shabbat. Therefore, the son of man is master even of the Shabbat.”

Mark 2:27-28 (DHE Gospels)

According to Toby, Christians typically use these verses to support the position that Jesus teaches man no longer has to keep the Sabbath since “Shabbat was given for the sake of man.” But Jesus also said that he didn’t come to abolish the Torah, which by definition, would have to include the Torah commandments related to the Sabbath:

Do not imagine that I have come to violate the Torah or the words of the prophets. I have not come to violate but to fulfill. For, amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one yod or one thorn will pass away from the Torah until all has been established.

Matthew 5:17-18 (DHE Gospels)

If you haven’t done so already, or you just don’t believe Jesus didn’t cancel the Torah, please view the FFOZ TV episode The Torah is Not Canceled, which I reviewed several weeks ago. It provides necessary background for what Toby and Aaron are teaching in the current episode of this series.

To understand how Jesus approached the Sabbath, we have to understand the larger context of what he means by “the Shabbat being made for man rather than man for the Shabbat.”

And it happened that He was passing through the grainfields on the Sabbath, and His disciples began to make their way along while picking the heads of grain. The Pharisees were saying to Him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?” And He said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he was in need and he and his companions became hungry; how he entered the house of God in the time of Abiathar the high priest, and ate the consecrated bread, which is not lawful for anyone to eat except the priests, and he also gave it to those who were with him?” Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:23-28 (NASB)

Toby JanickiToby brings up an important point that Jesus is debating with the Pharisees about what is and is not permitted to do on the Sabbath, not whether or not the Sabbath remains valid. Neither side in this argument is invalidating the Sabbath, merely dialoguing about what constitutes “work” on this holy day. Rabbis have been having similar debates for hundreds and even thousands of years. The Talmud is replete with Rabbinic discussions and disagreements over what is permitted to do on Shabbat and a wide variety of other matters related to the Torah mitzvot. The discussion recorded in Mark 2:23-28 is no different, and yet Christianity, not seeing this transaction from a Jewish perspective, universally fails to comprehend its meaning.

In the specific example above, Jesus is citing a portion of the Bible when David and his men ate bread permitted only to the Levitical priests. They did so because they were starving and had no where else to turn for food. Jesus is saying that the Shabbat is a gift, not a straitjacket, and the specifics of performing a type of work that is normally forbidden on Shabbat must not overrule the higher principle of preserving human life, well-being, and dignity.

Jesus had a number of similar debates with the Pharisees on this topic, including whether it was permitted to heal a non-life threatening disability on Shabbat (Matthew 12:9-14).

For more context on the debates Jesus had with the Pharisees on the Shabbat, see my review of D. Thomas Lancaster’s book The Sabbath Breaker: Jesus of Nazareth and The Gospels’ Sabbath Conflicts, also published by First Fruits of Zion.

At this point in his presentation, Toby said something I didn’t expect. We generally consider the phrase “Son of Man” as Jesus used it, to refer to himself, the Messiah, however, Toby applied it differently in the context of Mark 2:23-28. He suggested that “Son of Man” is an equivalent term for all humankind. Thus, he presents the words of Jesus as saying that the Sabbath was created as a gift for all people and that all people everywhere are “Lord of the Sabbath.”

For me, this creates certain problems, since, as I said before, the “Son of Man” is generally considered as a title for Messiah, and Toby’s interpretation seems to create a separate meaning for only this situation. It also may contradict what he establishes later in this episode, since if the Sabbath is created for everyone, Jew and non-Jew, and we are all “lords” of the Sabbath, what does that mean for Gentile Shabbat observance today?

More on that in a bit.

Toby drew a parallel between the Master’s words above and an ancient Jewish commentary on the book of Exodus called Mechilta, and quotes part of it which states:

Shabbat is delivered to you, not you to the Shabbat.

This echos the meaning of the Master that man is not to surrender himself to the Shabbat but quite the opposite. If the laws of the Sabbath were entirely rigid and immutable, they might require that observant people be subject to hardship and even death in obedience of such laws. Even the most stringent Jewish interpretation of the laws of Shabbat allow for lifesaving efforts to be expended on Shabbat, but what about people who are suffering but who will live for another day? What if the dilemma isn’t life and death, but life and dignity?

I’ve come the long way around to the first clue in solving our mystery, but it has finally arrived:

Clue 1: Jesus argued about what things were permissible to do on the Sabbath.

And this, as I previously pointed out, is a debate that has been taking place in Judaism for a very long time.

The scene shifts to Aaron Eby in Israel for a word study on the Hebrew word “Shabbat.”

Aaron starts by quoting Exodus 20:8-9, 11 which I render from the Stone Edition of the Tanakh:

Remember the Sabbath day to sanctify it. Six days shall you work and accomplish all your work…for in six days Hashem made the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and He rested on the seventh day. Therefore, Hashem blessed the Sabbath day and sanctified it.

Aaron EbyAaron points out that the Sabbath has a universal application and far pre-dates the giving of the commandments of the Sabbath at Sinai.

The literal meaning of the word “Shabbat” is “resting” and “stopping” and implies an “active” form of “resting” and “refraining,” not just kicking back and relaxing. To me, this speaks of a specificity of types of activity and inactivity, a mindfulness that Shabbat is not just relaxing in front of the T.V., but directing mind, spirit, and heart away from our immediate human activities and toward God.

Aaron cites something I consider very important in the following:

The Children of Israel shall observe the Sabbath, to make the Sabbath an eternal covenant for their generations. Between Me and the Children of Israel it is a sign forever that in a six-day period Hashem made heaven and earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed. (emph. mine)

Exodus 31:16-17 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

There are two exceptionally important points to get from this. When Israel or any individual Jewish person keeps the Shabbat, they:

  1. Testify to the eternal covenant between God and all Jewish people, the nation of Israel.
  2. Testify to God’s sovereignty as Creator of the Universe.

In the quote from Exodus 31:16-17, I emphasized words that testify to the eternal nature of the Shabbat as a covenant sign between God and the Jewish people. This also, by implication, testifies to the eternal nature of the Mosaic covenant with the Jewish people, and the Torah as the conditions of that covenant. When Christians say that the Shabbat no longer applies to the Jewish people (or anyone else) and especially that the Torah is now irrelevant to the Jewish people, I want to scream, “What part of eternal don’t you understand?”

But I digress.

Formally, in Judaism, a “day” lasts from sundown to sundown, not from sunrise to sunrise or midnight to midnight. That means that the seventh day Shabbat begins at sundown on Friday and ends at sundown on Saturday (in Rabbinic custom, the Shabbat actually begins slightly before sundown on Friday and ends about 45 minutes after sundown on Saturday as a “hedge,” to avoid “cutting it too close,” so to speak, in beginning and ending Shabbat observance).

Aaron also pointed out that generally, Jewish (and Christian) authorities all agree on which day is the “seventh day,” and that Biblically, it can’t be just any day at all.

I wish Aaron or Toby had addressed the following, though:

One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord…

Romans 14:5-6 (NASB)

Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one keep defrauding you of your prize by delighting in self-abasement and the worship of the angels, taking his stand on visions he has seen, inflated without cause by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the head, from whom the entire body, being supplied and held together by the joints and ligaments, grows with a growth which is from God.

Colossians 2:16-19 (NASB)

Mark NanosIn Paul’s letter to the Romans addressing “the weak and the strong” (which I’m about to get to in the Mark Nanos book The Mystery of Romans), most people take from these words to mean that one day is as good as another as far as observing a “Sabbath” is concerned, and that believers need not be concerned about strictly observing a Saturday Shabbat. The scripture from Colossians tells a similar tale in the eyes of the Church, and yet both of these interpretations directly contradict earlier scriptures. Since as believers, we cannot understand that the Bible is internally contradictory, we must conclude then that our interpretations are flawed. How can Jewish Shabbat observance be eternal and yet Paul say that it simply doesn’t matter because of Jesus? Jesus himself affirmed the Shabbat, not eliminated it.

Aaron’s segment of this program has him also affirming the current requirement for Israel to observe the Shabbat, but he also asks the question, “What does the Shabbat mean to Gentile believers?”

Back in the studio with Toby, we find our second clue:

Clue 2: Sabbath is from sunset Friday until sunset Saturday.

Two or three clues really don’t do it for the mystery of Shabbat in my opinion. This particular television episode brought up a dense set of meanings for me.

While earlier portions of the episode spoke of the “universality” of the Shabbat as a testimony of all mankind that God is the sovereign Creator, Toby shifts into the specifics of Shabbat and Judaism. While we see the sanctity of the Shabbat being set in place in Genesis 2, Toby points out that the specific commandments of Shabbat observance were not given in any recorded fashion to Adam and his sons or to Noah and his sons. It is only after God redeems the Children of Israel from Egypt and they are standing “as one man” at Sinai before Hashem their God, that Shabbat is formally established and its observance defined in Torah. It is also given as a specific sign of the Mosaic covenant between God and Israel, only Israel, forever. No other people group or nation has ever received this sign obligation to God.

Hashem said to Moses, saying: “Now you speak to the Children of Israel, saying: ‘However, you must observe my Sabbaths, for it is a sign between Me and you for your generations, to know that I am Hashem, Who makes you holy.'”

Exodus 31:12-13 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Toby doesn’t mention this, but the above verses establish that not only is the Saturday Sabbath considered an eternal sign of the covenant between God and Israel, but so are all of the “Sabbaths,” that is, all of the moadim, God’s appointed times, the festivals identified and defined in Torah, such as Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur. Each and every one of these Sabbaths must be observed by all of Israel for all time; for after all, that’s what “eternal” means.

I’ve heard it said in the Church that Jews should observe the moadim as “national holidays” the way Americans “observe” the Fourth of July or Thanksgiving. I consider that not only misleading and Biblically inaccurate, but potentially demeaning. It reduces the eternal covenant signs between God and Israel to how Americans “observe” barbecues, fireworks, eating turkey, and watching football. The very best you can say about American national holidays is that they represent who we are and how we relate to our history as Americans, a relationship between citizens and our country. The moadim, the weekly Sabbath, Passover, Shavuot, Sukkot, and the other special Sabbaths are far, far more than that, and indeed, define the relationship between Israel and her citizens, the Jewish people, and the God of Everything!

That’s somewhat more significant than mere American “national holidays,” wouldn’t you say?

This is another long way around to reaching the third and final clue in solving today’s mystery:

Clue 3: The Bible requires only the Jewish people to keep the Sabbath.

That’s going to make some people I know, non-Jewish people, very unhappy, but hold on there. Toby goes on to say that there’s nothing stopping any non-Jewish believer from also observing the Shabbat in some manner. We may not be commanded to do so, but we might as well “get used to it,” for someday, all of humanity will indeed observe the seventh day Shabbat.

And the foreigners who join themselves to Hashem to serve Him and to love the Name of Hashem to become servants unto Him, all who guard the Sabbath against desecration, and grasp My covenant tightly — I will bring them to My holy mountain, and I will gladden them in My house of prayer; their elevation-offerings and their feast-offerings will find favor on My Altar, for my House will be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Isaiah 56:6-7 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

It shall be that at every New Moon and on every Sabbath all mankind will come to prostrate themselves before Me, says Hashem.

Isaiah 66:23 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Boaz MichaelIf I’m reading this right (and I think I am), then not only will everyone observe a weekly Sabbath, the seventh day Sabbath, in the Messianic Age, but we will observe the New Moons and all of the Sabbaths and Festivals of God, all of the moadim listed in the Torah.

I don’t know how any later or subsequent revelation in the Apostolic scriptures (New Testament) can alter or undo the meaning of this text.

What Did I Learn?

I learned some things about the Sabbath, but I learned more about myself. I learned that I want to scream when I hear good, intelligent, and passionate Christians, men and women who I deeply respect, saying things about the Bible that seem completely contrary to the Bible. To my way of thinking, Toby and Aaron provided their audience with an air-tight case that Sabbath keeping is completely Jewish and remains an obligation for the Jewish people as a response to their covenant obligations to God. To deny this is (forgive me) to deny the evidence of the Bible. Toby and Aaron “quoted chapter and verse,” so to speak, illustrating the path from Genesis, to Sinai, to the present age, and into the Messianic Era, that the seventh day Sabbath is an eternal sign of the (eternal) covenant between God and Israel.

I also learned to “tighten up” the scriptures defining when all of humanity, in addition to Israel, will be obligated to observe the Shabbat, which is in the Messianic Era. There is no current obligation for Christians, or anyone else who isn’t Jewish, to observe Shabbat, but there will be in the future age when Messiah returns and establishes his Kingdom of peace over all the Earth. While Gentiles don’t have to observe Shabbat now, we can choose to, in some fashion, to honor God as Creator and to summon for ourselves a taste of the future Messianic Kingdom.

I found myself thinking of my Jewish wife and children. None of them observe the Shabbat in any real sense. For awhile, when our daughter was in Israel, my wife was lighting the Shabbos candles, but she stopped soon after our daughter returned. It breaks my heart, but I have to remind myself that some traditional Jews believe that in the age right before the coming of Messiah…

There is a tradition that people will begin to despise the values of their religion in the generations preceding the coming of the Messiah. Since in a period of such accelerated change, parents and children will grow up in literally different worlds, and traditions handed down from father to son will be among the major casualties.

Our sages thus teach us that neither parents nor the aged will be respected, the old will have to seek favors from the young, and a man’s household will be become his enemies. Insolence will increase, people will no longer have respect, and none will offer correction. Religious studies will be despised and used by non-believers to strengthen their own claims; the government will become godless, academies places of immorality, and the pious denigrated…

Perhaps it is darkest before the dawn.

At the very end of the episode, as always, FFOZ Founder and President Boaz Michael appeared on camera to summarize this episode and to mention that next week’s show will continue to discuss the Shabbat. He also said, and this is very important to me, that studying the Bible, all of it, from a Jewish cultural, national, historical, ethnic, and traditional perspective “makes our Bibles consistent and upholds the Biblical truth that God doesn’t change.”

At the beginning of some of these shows, Toby refers to himself as “a Gentile who studies Messianic Judaism.” I’m a Gentile Christian who studies Messianic Judaism but who also attends a Christian church and, as part of that experience, studies Christianity from a fundamentalist and Reformed theology perspective.

So far, after a year of being back in church, the Messianic learning framework still makes a great deal more sense to me as a Biblical guide to Biblical truth than the platform used by fundamentalists. And this should be strange, since being a fundamentalist Christian simply means adhering to the core fundamentals of faith in Jesus Christ.

ShabbatBut maybe that’s the problem. Those fundamentals are based on (please pardon me again) a “fundamental” set of assumptions and traditional interpretations of what the Bible is saying. While those fundamentals attempt to take into account, not only the meaning of the Bible in its original languages, but the cultural and historic context of the Biblical authors and their audiences, they just do not escape the filter of two-thousand years of Christian interpretive history as well as Christian/Jewish enmity, all of which, after Christianity broke from its Jewish origins, must by definition, deny the Torah and deny continuing Jewish obligation to the Torah, including the seventh day Sabbath, as an eternal sign of the covenant between Jewish Israel and God.

How long will I be able to straddle the line with each foot planted on opposite sides of the street? You’ll find out in tomorrow’s “morning meditation.”

FFOZ TV Review: The Golden Rule

ffoz_tv19_mainEpisode 19: Jesus instructs us “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is the Golden Rule. But why does he add at the end “For this is the law and prophets”? Episode nineteen will explore the words of other rabbis who also distilled down the commandments in a similar way to Jesus. The Golden Rule is the practical application of the Leviticus commandment “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” and thus is the baseline of kingdom ethics and a prophetic picture of the peace of the Messianic Era.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 19: The Golden Rule (click this link to watch video, not the image above)

The Lesson: The Mystery of the Golden Rule

I didn’t think I’d get much out of this episode, so I was surprised when the material covered by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) teachers Toby Janicki and Aaron Eby folded into several blog posts I’ve written recently, all touching on how we treat our fellow human beings.

The “Golden Rule” is often rendered as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Here’s the Biblical source:

So then, whatever you want sons of men to do to you, do the same to them, for this is the Torah and the Prophets.

Matthew 7:12 (DHE Gospels)

Here’s a more familiar version of the same text:

In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

Matthew 7:12 (NASB)

I guess I’m always a little surprised when I hear how some Christians understand certain parts of the Bible. It would never occur to me to think that Jesus was supposed to be replacing the Torah and the Prophets, that is, the Old Testament, with a new, “one size fits all” law that is simple, easy to understand, and (in theory) easy to accomplish. But apparently, that’s what a lot of Christians have been taught.

They’ve also been taught that Jesus invented “The Golden Rule” and that it is a wholly New Testament concept.

Except, that’s not true.

Toby pulls a story from Talmud commonly referred to as Hillel, Shammai, and the Three Converts. I won’t render the entire tale here, but the core statement, when the Rabbinic Sage Hillel is confronted with a demand by a would-be convert to teach him the Torah while the man stood on one foot (and no one can keep their balance on one foot for very long), is the response, “What you dislike, do not do to your friend. That is the basis of the Torah. The rest is commentary; go and learn!”

ffoz_tv19_tobyThis statement is a variation of what Jesus said to his listeners in Matthew 7:12 and communicates the same thought. But the Rabbinic sages Hillel and Shammai lived and taught a full generation before Jesus began his ministry, so Jesus couldn’t have invented this teaching. Further, both Jesus and Hillel say that “the Golden Rule” is the basis of the Torah and the Prophets, which is often misinterpreted by Christians to mean that this rule replaces the Torah.

We’ll get to that in a minute, but Toby also tells his audience that Hillel didn’t invent the Golden Rule either:

…you shall love your fellow as yourself — I am Hashem.

Leviticus 19:18 (Stone Edition Chumash)

Both Hillel and Jesus are drawing directly from a commandment in the Torah, and this is the first clue in solving our mystery:

Clue 1: The Golden Rule is a paraphrase of Leviticus 19:18.

At this point, the scene shifts to Aaron in Israel and he reads a related passage from scripture to us:

A certain sage among them asked him a question to test him, saying “Rabbi, which is the greatest mitzvah in the Torah?” Yeshua replied to him, “Love Hashem your God with all your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your knowledge.” This is the greatest and first mitzvah. But the second is similar to it: “Love your fellow as yourself.” The entire Torah and the Prophets hang on these two mitzvot.

Matthew 22:35-40 (DHE Gospels)

The first commandment, Aaron tells the audience, is taken from Deuteronomy 6:5 and is part of the Shema, the most holy prayer in Judaism, which observant Jews recite twice daily. The second, as noted before, is from Leviticus 19:18

Aaron introduces a concept called “equal decrees,” which is a Jewish interpretative method used in Jesus’s day and one that Jesus was using in the above-quoted scripture. This method says that if two sections of scripture use the same and unusual words, which in this case are “And you shall love” or “ve’ahavta” in Hebrew, then they are considered related and equal to each other. Jesus is saying that there’s a relationship between Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, that they are linked and that they are equal in some manner.

Aaron also drew out that all of the Torah commandments and teachings of the Prophets hang on these two verses. In other words, all of the Torah commandments are dependent upon loving God with all of your resources and loving your fellow as yourself. Instead of replacing the Torah and the Prophets with the Golden Rule, Jesus was upholding and affirming the Torah and the Prophets, just as Hillel was (and who would ever accuse the great sage Hillel of trying to replace the Torah with a simple rule commanding kindness to others?).

ffoz_tv19_aaronIt occurred to me as I listened to Aaron, that anyone who claimed to be “Torah observant” but who didn’t treat others the same way as they would want to be treated, could not actually say to be obeying the Torah of Moses, since all of the commands in Torah are utterly dependent upon loving God and loving others.

Of course, we have to consider the question, “who is my neighbor?”

But we’ll get to that in a minute.

Returning to Toby in the studio, we receive the next clue:

Clue 2: The Golden Rule summarizes the commandments of the Torah.

Now we’ll begin to address who is our neighbor or our fellow.

Then a certain sage arose to test him and said, “Teacher, what should I do to take possession of eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Torah? How do you read it?” He answered and said, “Love Hashem your God with all of your heart, with all of your soul, and with all of your strength, and with all of your knowledge — and your fellow as yourself.” He said to him, “You have answered well. Do this and live.”

He desired to justify himself so he said to Yeshua, “Who is my fellow?”

Luke 10:25-29 (DHE Gospels)

Here, Luke reverses who speaks the two greatest commandments, having the sage who is testing Jesus state them. Jesus says something interesting and something I think should make Christians a little nervous. He says to the sage that if he loves God with all of his resources and his fellow as himself, if he observes these Torah mitzvot, he will live, that is, he will gain eternal life. In “Christianese,” Jesus is telling him that he will be saved if he observes the two greatest mitzvot.

This is very revealing because Jesus didn’t say “believe in me, in Jesus” or even “believe in God” but rather, you will gain salvation if you love God with everything you’ve got and if you love your fellow as yourself.

But what about this neighbor/fellow stuff?

In Luke 10:30-37, Jesus responds to the sage’s query by relating what we know as “the Parable of the Good Samaritan.” In other words, Jesus defines a neighbor not just as one’s fellow Jew, but even as someone who you don’t like very well, someone who isn’t even Jewish.

Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?” And he said, “The one who showed mercy toward him.” Then Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.”

Luke 10:36-37 (NASB)

Ah, mercy. I’ve had a lot to say on mercy lately. Mainly because of a few people in the blogosphere who lead with their sense of “justice” while dumping mercy into the gutter.

sad-childJesus is saying that the second of the two greatest commandments, a mitzvah upon which all of the other Torah mitzvot depend, is loving any other human being, showing that person the exact same compassion that we ourselves would want to be shown. Since the second commandment is considered equal to the first, one cannot love God if that person does not show mercy to his fellow human being, any fellow human being. It doesn’t matter if that’s a fellow Jew or not (assuming you’re Jewish) or a fellow believer or not (assuming that you’re a believer). The Golden Rule, the second of the two greatest commandments, must apply to everyone you encounter, regardless of who they are. Otherwise, your love of and faith in God, as well as your much vaunted observance of Torah, means absolutely nothing.

This is also the third and final clue:

Clue 3: The Golden Rule applies universally.

Toby says that the Golden Rule is also a foretaste of the Messianic Era, an age of universal love and peace, when everyone will treat each other with compassion, kindness, and mercy. These are the ethical principles of the Messianic Age, and we can apprehend some of that age now if we just embrace the Golden Rule and live it out.

What Did I Learn?

I surprised myself in that I have been urging my own small audience on my blog to observe the Golden Rule without even realizing it. In spite of how I’m sometimes criticized for leaning a bit more toward mercy than justice in my messages, according to this FFOZ TV teaching, I seem to be on the right track. But what does that say for those out there in the Church and the Hebrew Roots movements, and all their variations, who lean more toward justice, a lot more, and barely give mercy a passing nod?

According to Jesus, both love of God and mercy toward your neighbor, who can be and in fact is everybody, is required in order to acquire eternal life, a place in the world to come, otherwise known as salvation. This is the viewpoint of the Bible that conflicts with the standard Christian version, which says all you have to do is believe in order to be saved. No behavior is required.

According to Ismar Schorsch in his book Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries, in one commentary on Torah Portion Vayeitze (“No Aversion to Wealth,” pg 108):

The Torah is indifferent to the nature of the afterlife, offering but slight comfort to the individual victim of oppression. What it does unflinchingly is to rail against those who pervert the principles and practices that enhance human life.

I get a very “Old Testament” feel from the teachings of Messiah as presented in this episode of FFOZ TV, The Golden Rule. Jesus is saying that our relationship with God, the true meaning of our faith and trust, isn’t what we think, and it’s not a warm and fuzzy feeling. Rather, it’s what we do. The nature and character of our love of God is directly reflected in how we treat other human beings, not just people who are like us, but also those who are unlike us, even those who are opposed to us.

For instance, how a believer, whether he thinks of himself as “Christian,” “Hebrew Roots follower,” or “Messianic,” speaks of and treats someone he considers an apostate, tells us more about that believer than it ever will tell us about the apostate.

No matter how much you tell yourself that you are “right” because you are quoting scripture, stating facts, stating truth, and upholding justice, if you also do not have the same mercy that the Samaritan had for the man who had been victimized by robbers, you have nothing at all from God.

A review and a cautionary tale from today’s “morning meditation.”

The Unchanging Changing God

Leah and RachelSo Jacob did so and he completed the week for her; and he gave him Rachel his daughter to him as a wife. And Laban gave Rachel his daughter Bilhah his maidservant — to her as a maidservant. He consorted also with Rachel and loved Rachel even more than Leah; and he worked for him another seven years.

Jacob’s anger flared up at Rachel, and he said, “Am I instead of God Who has withheld from you fruit of the womb?” She said, “Here is my maid Bilhah, consort with her, that she may bear upon my knees and I too may be built up through her.”

When Jacob came from the field in the evening, Leah went out to meet him and said, “It is to me that you must come for I have clearly hired you with my son’s dudaim.” So he lay with her that night.

Genesis 29:28-30, 30:2-3, 16 (Stone Edition Chumash)

So Jacob marries two women, and sisters no less, and “consorts,” not only with his two wives, but with both of their maidservants as well. By today’s standards, even in progressive, secular society, this is beyond scandalous. And yet, in the ancient near east, what Jacob was going and how he was building up a family was considered perfectly acceptable.

But we don’t consider that acceptable today, and certainly not in the Christian church. Did Jacob deviate from God’s plan? Did he commit some horrible sin, some dire mistake as did his grandfather Abraham when Abraham “consorted” with Sarah’s slave Hagar (Genesis 16:1-4)? Ishmael went on to father the Arab nations, who have been a thorn in Israel’s side across history and into the present day. Did Jacob’s actions with his wives and concubines represent the same error?

Apparently not, since without the children produced by all four of these women, there would be no twelve tribes of Israel and their descendants, the Jewish people.

But how is this possible? If God is eternal and His morality is eternal and unchanging, then how can the relationship Jacob had with two wives and two concubines be approved of by God and yet be considered morally wrong and sinful today?

He answered them, Have you not read that from the beginning the Maker “created them male and female,” and it says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and cling to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”? If so, they are not two any longer, but one flesh. Thus, what God has joined, man must not divide.

Matthew 19:4-6 (DHE Gospels)

One FleshJesus quotes from an even older story in the Bible to define what is marriage (and what is divorce) to the questioning Pharisees, but conspicuous in his answer is the absence of Jacob, his two wives, and his two concubines. Certainly, every Jewish person hearing the words of the Master and even Jesus himself, owed their very existence to Jacob and his offspring who he sired with four women, only two of whom he had formally married. But what about “two becoming one flesh?”

And what about this?

And it was when about three months had passed, that Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law Tamar has committed harlotry, and moreover, she has conceived by harlotry.”

Judah said, “Take her out and let her be burned.”

As she was taken out, she sent word to her father-in-law, saying, “By the man to whom these belong I am with child.” And she said, “Identify, if you please, whose are this signet, this wrap, and this staff.”

Judah recognized; and he said, “She is right; it is from me, inasmuch as I did not give her to Shelah my son,” and he was not intimate with her anymore.

Genesis 38:24-26 (Stone Edition Chumash)

If not for this rather scandalous act on both the part of Tamar and Judah, she would not have given birth to the twins Perez and Zerah, and Perez is an ancestor of the Messiah.

How ironic that the one son of Jacob who found his wife among the Canaanite inhabitants of the land was none other than Judah, whose name would eventually denote the progeny of Jacob that survives. In the phrase “About that time Judah left his brothers,” the verb “left” suggests not only a physical departure, but also a violation of family mores (see Genesis 38:1-2).

-Ismar Schorsch
Commentary on Torah Portion Vayetze
“Setting Aside Our Abhorrence of Canaanites,” pg 105
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

All of this suggests, even if we agree God’s morality and ethics are eternal and unchanging, that He is willing to “work with” our current traditions and customs as a means of accomplishing His plan. Otherwise, how can we explain such apparently outrageous behavior by some of the greatest men in the Bible?

Later in the same commentary, Schorsch goes on to say:

The language implies an expansion of the notion of excluded nations. It is not ethnicity that defines the seven original settler nations of Israel, but cultural mores.

-ibid, pg 106

abraham1This makes a great deal of sense, especially in the case of Abraham, who was distinguished from even his close relatives in his homeland, not by ethnicity or genetics, but by a moral and ethical code received from God as the result of “faith counted as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6).

As the family of Abraham progressed forward in time, it began to be distinguished and then defined by families, clans, and tribes descended from the twelve sons of Israel. Who Israel was to each other and to God was set against the national backdrop of the people groups surrounding them. But then, time continues to pass and circumstances radically change.

By the time the Pharisees and Rabbis, Ezra’s spiritual heirs, came to power after the destruction of the Second Temple, Judaism had become a missionizing world religion, constituting as much as one-tenth of the population of the Roman Empire. To maintain the deuteronomic legacy, especially in Palestine, would have severely impeded access to Judaism for prospective converts in a world turned cosmopolitan. Who could be sure that an interested gentile was not a descendant of one of the proscribed nations?

-ibid

I know people in the community of Jesus faith who discount the validity of conversion to Judaism because it is not presupposed in the Torah, as if closure of Torah canon constitutes closure of the will of God. My recent commentaries on Pastor John MacArthur’s Strange Fire Conference have shown me (not that I was unsure of MacArthur’s opinions before this) that he closes Biblical canon with a bang at the end of the Book of Revelation and declares that the Holy Spirit isn’t in the business of working miracles or even talking to people anymore.

And yet, even within the Biblical canon, we see time and time again how God, unchanging and eternal God, seems willing to adapt how He interacts with human beings across the varied mosaic of history in order to accomplish His ultimate goal of reconciling man to Himself and ushering in the Messianic age.

I’ve been struggling more than a little with trying to reconcile the Jewish Torah, Prophets, and Writings, which Christians call collectively, the “Old Testament,” with the later Christian scriptures or the “New Testament.” Even though the books of the Tanakh represent a widely diverse set of writing styles and writers, it yet preserves an overall Jewish “flow” of prophesy aimed at the national redemption of Israel, and the restoration of God’s physical rule on Earth and among all the nations. The Christian interpretation of the later writings shifts the focus away from national Israel and the Jewishness of Yeshua faith, and makes it all a story about God’s plan for personal salvation of all people in a single, homogenized group called “the Church.”

But “the Church” is never mentioned in the Tanakh. If the Bible is supposed to be a unified document, Torah, Prophets, Writings, Gospels, Epistles, Apocrypha, then I would expect that overarching Jewish flow of prophesy to be seamless and unbroken across the “Testaments.”

But it isn’t.

DHE Gospel of MarkHowever, is the fault the document we have that we call the Bible, or is it how different groups interpret it? Certainly Christians see the “Old Testament” in a radically different light than Jews see the Tanakh.

Is my search for Biblical reconciliation and the face of the One, Living God across all history doomed to failure? Is there no way to understand an adaptive God and yet find Him eternal and unchanging in all of the pages of the Bible?

Frankly, one of the only places I’ve been gaining traction so far in my quest is by watching and reviewing the different episodes of First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ) television series (available for free viewing online) A Promise of What is to Come. That’s because this program is written and formatted to present familiar concepts in Christianity, such as the Gospel Message, the meaning of the title “Messiah,” repentance, and the parables of Jesus, all from an exclusively Jewish perspective.

The key to understanding the Bible, all of it, is to put yourself in the place of the original writers and especially of the original audience. What were the first century Jewish readers of Matthew’s Gospel supposed to take away from his message? What is “the Good News” from an ancient Jewish point of view? Is the Jesus Christ of the Christian Church really the Jewish Messiah, Son of David we see prophesied by Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Zechariah? Is there some way to make sense of how God seems to change His methods and motives based on changes in ancient (and modern?) cultural mores, and still to recognize that He is One God, a single, unified, creative, entity?

In an ultimate sense, the great Ein Sof God of the Universe is entirely unknowable. How can the small and finite know the limitless infinity?

And yet, God gave us a Bible written in human languages by inspired human beings to other human beings in need of inspiration so that we can know Him. God wants us to know Him and to draw close to Him. We read how Abraham drew close to God. We read how the God of his father became the “Dread” of Isaac. We can see how God turned the fugitive son Jacob into Israel, the father of an empire.

And we can read how one, lone, itinerant teacher changed the course of the world through his teachings, his death, his resurrection, and his ascension to the right hand of Glory.

walkingThe search for God is not a search for an ultimate answer that once we possess it, we may rest in our knowledge and sit assured in our complacency. It is a never-ending process, a trail winding through the mountains, a sea without a shore, a lifelong journey of ever greater discoveries and an ever closer walk with our God.

There is an answer, just as there is a final peace, where each man will sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one will make him afraid (Micah 4:4). But that time has yet to come. And until he comes again, we remain a traveler without a home, a bird without a nest, eternally walking, eternally in flight, until home comes to us in the Kingdom of God.

May Messiah come soon and in our day.