Tag Archives: FFOZ

Of Dissonance and Hashkafah

Hashkafah is a great Hebrew word without an exact English equivalent. Your hashkafah is your worldview. The term is often used when referring to one’s personal worldview as regards to religion and halachah (Jewish law). It’s the lens through which you view things. It’s how you understand a system. It’s your paradigm of thought. It dictates the way you think about things, and therefore impacts the conclusions you will reach. It’s your ideology and the reason behind your ideology.

-Boaz Michael
“Hashkafah,” p.7
from the Director’s Letter for Issue 119/Spring 2015 of
Messiah Journal

I learned something new today. I learned that my blog is all about discussing my hashkafah, “the lens through which I view things” including my “paradigm of thought” and my “ideology and the reason behind my ideology.”

I’ve said this before but it bears repeating. I’m not writing because I think I’m smarter than other people and that I am delivering my learned pronouncements from some virtual ivory tower. I’m writing to explain what I’ve been learning and how it affects the development of my hashkafah.

Actually, Boaz said so much more in his letter that I found quite useful, which is why I’m sharing this with you. Here’s another useful idea:

A person’s hashkafah (worldview or paradigm) is like the DNA that determines both appearances and actions as a fully formed body. If one’s outward appearance is inconsistent with his hashkafah, it will lead to cognitive dissonance and a crisis of faith.

-ibid (emph. mine)

And that’s what I’ve been experiencing, both in my previous attempt to integrate into a local church and, ironically enough, in my encounters with Messianic Judaism.

For instance, for Shauvot 2012, I attended First Fruits of Zion’s Shavuot Conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Wisconsin and I had a blast. I made connections with new people and deepened relationships with old friends.

But the following year, I had started going to church and as a result, I was encountering some of that “cognitive dissonance” Boaz talks about. At the Shavuot conference in 2013, I was confused and conflicted as to who I was and what I was supposed to be doing. I eventually settled in, but not before behaving in such a way that damaged a number of friendships.

The dissonance worked both ways, and not only made it unlikely for me to be invited to attend future Messianic conferences, but ultimately ended up with me leaving church as well.

How do you resolve the dissonance between being attracted to a Messianic Jewish study and practice paradigm and yet not being Jewish?

jackson's bookThis is the reason I’ve been reviewing Pastor Chris Jackson’s book Loving God When You Don’t Love the Church: Opening the Door to Healing. I’m using my review series as the lens through which to look at whether there’s any likelihood of me returning to fellowship or if I should even try. Since Boaz’s letter speaks to what’s going on behind that concern, I consider examining it here part of that investigation.

Here’s what’s at the core of not only my difficulties with the church but with just about every single religious argument we have in the blogosphere:

Most religious arguments involve bitter clashes over “what we believe” (theology) and “what we do” (praxis). If we do not share the same hashkafah informing our theology and praxis, this type of debate will be pointless and irresolvable.

-ibid

That, in a nutshell, describes the vast majority of the religious arguments that happen in the comments sections of my blog and many other religious blogs, especially in the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots spaces.

Although I doubt Boaz intended to, he described exactly what happened between me and the head Pastor of the church I used to attend:

For example, many Christians operate under the hashkafah which assumes that the authority of the New Testament has replaced the authority of the Old Testament. This paradigm holds it as self-evident that any conditions established in the Old Testament remain operative only if restated in the New Testament. So long as that paradigm remains firmly in place, there is no point in arguing…

-ibid, p.8

It took two years to get to this point, but Pastor and I finally arrived on the shores of “there is no point in arguing.”

Boaz, spent much of his letter describing his perspective on the hashkafah of various related movements such as Christianity, One Law, Missionary and Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism, and then what he calls Messianic Judaism for the Nations, which is First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ) perspective.

I won’t go into all of that here (I may in a future blog post), but for the sake of matters of dissonance and fellowship (or lack thereof), I’ll focus on the portions of Boaz’s letter I consider relevant. He restated the hashkafah of Messianic Judaism from his previous letter in issue 117 thus:

The practice of Judaism coupled with the realization that Yeshua of Nazareth is the Messiah, the New Testament is true, and the kingdom is at hand.

Boaz Michael
Boaz Michael

My immediate question was how that’s supposed to work for someone who isn’t Jewish. Boaz answers that question subsequently, but does Boaz’s answer work for me? We’ll see by the by.

I do want to mention something regarding Boaz’s hashkafah for Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism since Derek Leman said something similar recently.

Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism is interested in practicing Judaism and maintaining Jewish identity, because Torah is seen as covenantally binding on all Jews. It has an interest in restoring the faith and practice of first-century believers for Messianic Jews, but not for Gentiles. Under this vision for Messianic Judaism, Gentile believers belong in Gentile Christianity identifying as Christians and Messianic Jews belong in Messianic synagogues identifying as Jews.

-ibid, p.10 (emph. mine)

It’s important to remember that Boaz distinguishes his personal (and FFOZ’s official) hashkafah from this Post-Missionary description, but it’s equally important to realize that there is significant overlap. So what does this mean for the so-called “Messianic Gentile?” What is FFOZ’s hashkafah for Messianic Judaism for the Nations?

The practice of Messianic Judaism by both Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles for the sake of continuity with the New Testament and the coming kingdom.

He further defines this view of Messianic Judaism as “the Judaism of the Messianic Era.” As far as that goes, I agree with him, and I’ve said more than once that when Messiah returns, as such, there will be no such entity as “the Church.” There will only be Messianic Judaism as it applies to Jews and to the people of the nations.

Relative to the rest of the Judaism in our world, Boaz states:

Our hashkafah acknowledges Jewish authority. We do not believe the New Testament stripped the Jewish people of the biblical and God-given authority to transmit, interpret, and apply the Torah. Although the rest of the Jewish world may be enemies regarding the gospel, they are nonetheless beloved for the sake of the fathers (Romans 11:28).

morning prayerIn other words, God did not abandon the Jewish people or Judaism nearly two-thousand years ago all for sake of the Gentile Christian Church. He didn’t change horses in mid-stream, and He didn’t jump from Plan A to Plan B in Acts 2 or anywhere else in the Bible, or for that matter, in post-Biblical times. God is with the disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) and God is also with His people Israel, the Jewish people, all of them, for the sake of His promises in the Torah and the Prophets as well as the aforementioned Romans 11:28.

As far as Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles, Boaz says:

Our hashkafah distinguishes between Jews and Gentiles and their respective obligations to the Torah. Since we accept the authority of the apostles, who also made that distinction clear, we maintain distinction. We advocate the integrity of Jewish identity as defined by Jewish tradition, with all its associated prerogatives, privileges, responsibilities, and obligations. We advocate the integrity of Messianic Gentile identity with its own prerogatives, privileges, responsibilities, and obligations as defined by the New Testament. Although Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles are two distinct groups, they share one religion.

While I wholeheartedly agree with all of that, I still asked myself where the Gentile praxis is defined specifically. It seems to vary from one Messianic group to the next, and my personal response was to give up all (or almost all) practice that could even tangentially be considered Jewish (I will still occasionally use a siddur).

I’m writing this on Saturday afternoon (I’m not much of a Sabbath-keeper anymore). Last night, my family and I had a very pleasant, low-key, and quite yummy Passover seder. I’m still getting full noshing on left-over matzah ball soup, and matzah and hummus.

This morning, my wife (who is Jewish) went to shul at the local Chabad, and I believe she’ll be attending the second seder night there as well (which means she won’t be home until very late). One of the obligations I believe we “Messianic Gentiles” have is encouraging and supporting Jewish Torah observance. To that end, I’m delighted she can partake of Jewish community as a Jew. I wish the same for all Jews, Messianic or otherwise.

Now if only someone would write and publish the definitive guide to Messianic Gentile praxis within the context of “Messianic Judaism for the Nations.”

I would encourage you to see our various works in our Mayim Chayim series: Mezuzah, Tzitzit, Tefillin, etc.

-ibid, p.12

Tent of DavidApparently there is a praxis for Messianic Gentiles, and after a few minutes and a quick Google search, I remembered that in past years, FFOZ had published a series of small booklets about different aspects of Jewish practice as applied to non-Jews. Toby Janicki wrote about Gentiles and Tefillin in this 2007 blog post. However, a quick search of the FFOZ online store front didn’t yield any positive results, so I can’t point you to where to purchase them. I remember possessing at least some of these booklets in the past, but either I loaned them to interested parties who never returned them, or they didn’t survive one of my wife’s “reducing clutter” projects.

Now as I said, so far, I agree with Boaz on most or all of the points he makes in his letter. But in terms of my own situation and especially the last two-and-a-half years of my personal history, here’s the kicker:

I should point out that I do not believe that Gentile believers need to leave their churches and join a Messianic synagogue or Sabbatarian group in order to be part of Messianic Judaism. As I advocate in my book Tent of David, I feel the best place for most Messianic Gentiles, at this point in history, is to remain in their respective churches, supporting the local church’s efforts for the kingdom and becoming an ambassador within that church for this message of restoration. Yes, it may be lonely, one may face theological opposition in the form of subtle anti-Semitism and not-so-subtle replacement theology, but disciples of the suffering servant should expect to suffer a little bit. If we greet only those who greet us and love only those who love us, what reward will we get?

-ibid

Now let’s compare that paragraph to two of Boaz’s previous statements:

Most religious arguments involve bitter clashes over “what we believe” (theology) and “what we do” (praxis). If we do not share the same hashkafah informing our theology and praxis, this type of debate will be pointless and irresolvable.

And…

For example, many Christians operate under the hashkafah which assumes that the authority of the New Testament has replaced the authority of the Old Testament. This paradigm holds it as self-evident that any conditions established in the Old Testament remain operative only if restated in the New Testament. So long as that paradigm remains firmly in place, there is no point in arguing…

I think Boaz’s suggestion works with some Messianic Gentiles in some churches under certain circumstances. I don’t believe it can be universally applied to all Messianic Gentiles in all churches under all circumstances. Of course, that’s not what I think Boaz is suggesting, but still, we must acknowledge that in terms of the “Tent of David” ideal, one size does not fit all.

Don’t worry. It’s not like I’m pounding on the doors of some Messianic Jewish community demanding to be let in. Far from it. As I’ve said many times before, my current family situation would prohibit such a thing, even if the perfect Messianic shul was just down the street from my house.

As far as church goes, I went in with the idea of being an ambassador and left to avoid being a nudnik (pest), at least any more than I’d already become.

To be fair, Boaz also said:

At the same time, I believe that the Messianic synagogue should function as a daughter of the holy Temple: “A house of prayer for all nations.” What would it look like if Messianic Judaism was to open its doors to the many Gentiles who come flocking to Messianic Judaism seeking leadership, direction, and spiritual guidance? What if Messianic Jews took up our role as the head, and not the tail, and we began to lead and shepherd our Master’s flocks? What might that look like?

alone-desertGiven the goal of maintaining Jewish identity and distinctiveness, all of that is easier said than done. Boaz says “Messianic Judaism is the Judaism of the Messianic Era–practiced today.” Well, sort of. There’s still so much we don’t know about exactly how Messiah will consider Jewish vs. Gentile devotees. It would be nice to believe there’s a way to smooth out all of the rough edges between Jews and Gentiles sharing Jewish community in Messiah, but I can only have faith that this is something Messiah will accomplish when he returns.

What’s the bottom line for me? Like my reviews of Pastor Jackson’s book, while I can see what both of these authors mean, and I can see it working for others, I don’t see a personal application. I’ve said before that I was willing simply to surrender the idea that I must be in community at all. I have limited social needs, so it’s pretty easy for me to be self-contained and to progress forward as an individual. Relative to my faith, it’s what I do at home anyway. It was only the concerns of a friend that had me return to this topic and take another look.

I’ve finished reading Pastor Jackson’s book and I’ll continue my reviews soon.

Final Note: I realize that every time I mention Boaz Michael and First Fruits of Zion, those people who have “issues” with him and his organization tend to make a number of rather “uncomplimentary” remarks in the comments section of my blog. I insist that you stick to the actual issues I’m discussing, that is the hashkafah of Messianic Judaism for the nations as contrasted with Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism and with Christianity as applied to my personal situation. If you can’t comment within the bounds of decorum and avoid committing lashon hara, then consider not commenting at all. Thank you.

Advertisements

Messianic Judaism for the Rest of Us

In November of 2014, the Caspari Center in Jerusalem invited me to participate in a panel discussion titled “Four Different Views on Messianic Judaism.” It wasn’t a debate, but rather just an opportunity for the panel members to express their own thoughts on the subject.

-Boaz Michael
from The Director’s Letter: “Four Different Views on Messianic Judaism,” p.8
Messiah Journal, issue 118/Winter 2014/5775

I’ve been having an interesting discussion in a closed Facebook group dedicated to Messianic Judaism in relation to my blog post Will Our Children Have Faith. Some of the dialogue addressed issues of Jewish and non-Jewish roles and responsibilities within the Messianic community and whether or not there should be any significant presence of Gentiles in Messianic Jewish synagogues.

Then the current issue of Messiah Journal arrived in my mailbox and I start reading Boaz’s latest “Director’s Letter.”

In an earlier letter presented in issue 117, Boaz said:

When I say that “Messianic Judaism is the practice of Judaism,” I mean to imply that we should regard ourselves more of a functional sect of Judaism rather than another Protestant Christian denomination.

In the current letter (pp.7-8), Boaz acknowledges:

I realize that this definition of the Messianic movement is not to everyone’s taste, and that many Messianic Jewish leaders would phrase it differently, but I believe that Messianic Judaism should be a real Judaism — not a Jewish flavored sect of Protestant Christianity.

I agree that statement would not work very well for many, most, or all Protestants, and probably not for many, most, or all Hebrew Roots Gentiles either. But here’s where I think Boaz is coming from. Remember that Boaz and his family made Aliyah and moved to Israel, specifically Jerusalem, some months ago. He stated earlier in his letter:

Messianic Judaism in Israel is faltering and fragile, and Messianic Jews here face enormous pressures. For the most part, Messianic Judaism in Israel has been raised up under the heavy influence of Missionary Messianic Jewish theology, and the Messianic congregations in Israel are sometimes more like Pentecostal churches than Messianic synagogues.

-Michael, p.7

I know nothing of Messianic groups in Israel, but I’ve attended plenty of Gentile-driven Hebrew Roots groups over the years here in the U.S., and their services are often some form of “Jewish-lite,” with a few really seeming like typical Evangelical or Pentecostal churches with a little Hebrew thrown in for seasoning (and to be fair, a few of them strongly attempt to map to a more authentic synagogue service).

But Evangelical and Pentecostal Christianity is where the movement came from decades ago and the influence of the Church on the Messianic movement can still be keenly felt, particularly, as Boaz points out, in Israel.

However, I’m building to a point which is to call out a few details about the four perspectives Boaz presents in his letter. The presenters, other than Boaz, at the Caspari Center for Biblical and Jewish Studies were Seth Ben-Haim (UMJC; MJTI), Baruch Maoz (Soli Deo Gloria), and Alec Goldberg (Caspari Center).

Mr. Maoz’s perspective on Messianic Judaism matches how Evangelical Christianity sees the role of believing Jews; that Jesus replaced the Law and that a Jewish Christian is no longer obligated to observe the mitzvot. Mr. Ben-Haim’s view is the polar opposite and coincides with Rabbi Mark Kinzer’s conception of Bilateral Ecclesiology as presented in his book Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism: Redefining Christian Engagement with the Jewish People.

Boaz’s definition of Messianic Judaism is represented by four points, which I’ll present in summary here except for point four which I’ll quote in its entirety:

  1. Peace, particularly between believing brothers and sisters and between Jews and Gentiles.
  2. Torah observance for the Jew in Messiah.
  3. Observance of the traditions in Messianic Judaism.
  4. Gentiles: I stated that, since the kingdom is represented by both Jews and Gentiles worshiping together, Messianic Judaism today should have a mechanism and broad enough self-definition to include Gentile disciples in positive and affirming ways. This is the message of Messianic Judaism for the nations.
Boaz Michael
Boaz Michael

As you can see, Boaz’s definition of Messianic Judaism is very inclusive of non-Jewish disciples, although it’s true that he didn’t specify what sort of mechanism should be used to “include Gentile disciples in positive and affirming ways.” He did mention the phrase “Messianic Judaism for the nations” which also appears on the website of Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship located in Hudson, Wisconsin. Beth Immanuel is led by one of First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ) head teachers D. Thomas Lancaster who has also been a good friend of Boaz’s for many years. The fact that Beth Immanuel seems to have a leadership that is mostly Gentiles and presents itself as “Messianic Judaism for the Nations” may be the mechanism Boaz had in mind.

But this doesn’t change the need of Jews in Messianic Judaism to belong to wholly Jewish community and to live completely Jewish lives of performing the mitzvot and observing the traditions, just like their other Jewish brothers and sisters in other branches of Judaism.

Going back to the panel discussion, the wild card in the deck seemed to be Alec Goldberg. Boaz expected Mr. Goldberg to agree with Mr. Maoz’s understanding that Jesus replaced the Law, but he was in for a surprise:

He said, “I have come to realize that as a Jew, I am called to live out the Torah.” Goldberg explained that the prophetic-kingdom promise of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31 had revealed to him that the Torah is part of the new covenant: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). Moreover, he had come to realize that the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 which exempted Gentiles from circumcision and obligation to the Torah’s Jewish identity markers said nothing at all about exempting Jews from any aspect of the Torah. Since the Jerusalem Council did not address Jews in their ruling, he deduced that they intended Jewish believers to remain faithful to Torah.

-ibid, p.10

Actually, from my perspective now, Mr. Goldberg’s conclusions seem fairly obvious, since the problem the Jerusalem Council was trying to solve was what to do with all the Gentiles, not how has devotion to Messiah changed Jewish obligation to Torah. Jews and the Torah weren’t on the table, so to speak. Only trying to figure out how Gentiles were receiving the Holy Spirit without first converting to Judaism. The answer was that conversion was not necessary and thus Gentile Torah observance was not incumbant upon them, only an Abraham-like faith in God through Messiah. But like I said, Jews and Jewish Torah observance weren’t even on the radar screen.

At one point in his letter, Boaz wrote, “I could hardly contain my enthusiasm over Mr. Goldberg’s remarks.”

It seems that on occasion, a person’s long-held and firm beliefs can be changed thanks to regular and diligent Bible study and the influence of the Holy Spirit upon a human life.

I’m writing this “meditation” for a few reasons. I wanted to present the fact that there’s no one, overarching definition of Messianic Judaism. I wanted to show that there are Jews who (sadly, in my opinion) view Messianic Judaism in the same way as Evangelical Christianity, taking a low view of Torah, of religious Judaism, and of the traditions. I wanted to show that, at least in this one limited context, the majority of Jews present supported Messianic Jewish Torah observance as well as adhering to the traditional lifestyle of religious, ethnic, and cultural Judaism. And I wanted to show that at least one of those definitions was accepting of a Gentile presence as “Messianic Judaism for the Nations.”

I do want to make sure to add one thing:

While I truly do respect Baruch Maoz for his tireless years of service to Messiah, I cannot find much common ground with his theological perspectives. His view that the Torah is canceled and Jewish believers in Yeshua have no obligation to it has been the prevailing view among Jewish believers here in Israel. Mr. Goldberg’s words offered me hope that things are changing.

-ibid

The very first point in Boaz’s definition of Messianic Judaism is peace. While he and Mr. Maoz may disagree, there is no animosity between them and Boaz acknowledges Mr. Maoz’s years of tireless and dedicated service to the cause of Messiah among the Jewish people.

When Boaz mentioned having little common ground theologically between him and Mr. Maoz, I couldn’t help but think of my many conversations with the Pastor of the church I used to attend, and how that lack of common ground finally resulted in me leaving the Church again. The Pastor is an intelligent, well-read, and well-educated man who is faithful to God and a dedicated shepherd to his congregation. He’s a good person in the faith, but alas, we have greatly divergent perspectives, just as do Mr. Maoz and Boaz Michael.

There are some churches and some Pastors who will benefit from the inclusion of a “Messianic” within their midst but I found that my church environment was not one of them. Ultimately, we all have to be the people God made us to be and follow the path He has put before us.

But there’s hope. As Boaz said, people are changing. Jews are recognizing Messiah without the Goyishe mask the Church placed on his face nearly twenty centuries ago, and they’re recognizing that there is no inconsistency between living a Jewish life and being a Jewish disciple of the Master. Gentiles, for our part, are also meeting the “Jewish Jesus” for the first time, and once we get over the shock, are learning to accept him as who he is and accept ourselves as who we are in him.

Messianic WorshipWho we are as Messianic Gentiles isn’t exactly how the Church defines a Christian, but it’s an exciting role which leads in new and unexpected directions. The Bible, studied from within a Messianic perspective, tells a radically different story about God’s redemptive plan for Israel and through Israel, God’s redemptive plan for the world.

I don’t know how it’s all going to work out yet. There are a lot of roadblocks in the way. We must not discount the power of God to make happen what He promised He would do, even if we haven’t a clue about what comes next.

Boaz finished up his letter by saying:

Things are indeed changing, and HaShem is at work restoring his people and preparing us for the kingdom. We are part of something much larger than ourselves; we are part of what God is doing today. I went home rejoicing over the opportunity to participate in the conversation at the Caspari Center, and I thanked God for opening the door.

If God can open the door that Boaz walked through, He can open doors for the rest of us. We must be patient. We must be ready.

As you read this, I am traveling. I won’t be near a computer to approve any comments until this evening at the soonest. I’ll return when I can. Thank you.

A Review of the Sinai Ethic: The Ethic of Possession

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

Exodus 19:1-6 (NASB)

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

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

Session Three: The Ethic of Possession

It’s been almost two weeks since my review of Part Two of this series. I’ve been wanting to get to it, but frankly, I just haven’t had the time up until now.

This is the shortest of Rabbi Resnik’s lectures at twenty-nine minutes and it sounds like he delivered it right after session two.

In the previous session. R. Resnik related a joke told by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks that the Bible was a record of “failures, contradictions, and shortcomings.” Setting the joke aside, R. Sacks also speaks of the Bible’s overarching themes as Creation, Revelation, and Redemption, and it’s these three themes that are the backbone of session three.

Resnik said that Creation is God’s relationship with the universe. Revelation is God’s relationship with humanity. And Redemption is what happens when you apply Revelation to Creation. This is somewhat mapped out in the siddur, according to Resnik, because there are two blessings said before the Shema and one afterward. The first two are blessing God as Creator of light and blessing He who has chosen His people Israel. Creation and Revelation.

The blessing after the Shema is blessing God as Israel’s redeemer.

Revelation also points to Sinai where God revealed Himself, but the ultimate background or stage upon which revelation occurs is the Land of Israel. It is in the Land that God reveals Himself to the Jewish people, and it is through Israel that God reveals Himself to the nations. Israel’s (that is, the Jewish people’s) possession of the Land is part of facilitating God’s revelation to humanity across the globe.

There’s a lot of political debate about the Jewish right to the Land of Israel but what about her responsibilities?

Rabbi Russ Resnik
Rabbi Russ Resnik

Resnik laid out a number of examples revealing that Israel’s ethical and moral behavior were the responsibilities that determined if they lived in the Land or went into exile. For instance, the Fifth Commandment ties living in the Land to how parents are honored.

However he focuses on the following:

‘When you reap the harvest of your land, moreover, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field nor gather the gleaning of your harvest; you are to leave them for the needy and the alien. I am the Lord your God.’

Leviticus 23:22 (NASB)

This is the section of Leviticus describing the Moadim or “God’s Appointed Times”, but this mitzvah appeared earlier.

‘Now when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very corners of your field, nor shall you gather the gleanings of your harvest. Nor shall you glean your vineyard, nor shall you gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the needy and for the stranger. I am the Lord your God.’

Leviticus 19:9-10

Why the repeat?

Resnik says Leviticus 19 addresses the Laws of Holiness while Leviticus 23 speaks of the Laws of the Moadim. He believes that these two occurrences provide linkage between ritual and ethical practices. He states that Israel cannot truly celebrate the festival of Shavuot (any festival, actually) as a unique Jewish heritage if it ignores the universal, moral dimensions contained within the festival.

Shavuot is called the Festival of Revelation, which makes sense. It is a celebration of the giving of the Torah at Sinai. But in citing the Laws of Gleaning, it also reveals God’s compassion to the poor and to the ger (stranger). This is part of the ethic of possession, the responsibility to not ignore the disadvantaged among you.

Choosing to focus on the stranger, Resnik references various scriptures including Leviticus 19 and Exodus 22 but his favorite is:

“You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Exodus 23:9

The word translated as “feelings” in the NASB is the Hebrew word “nefesh” which is better translated as “soul”. “You shall not oppress the stranger since you know the soul of a stranger…”

But why are there strangers in the Land living among the Israelites? Was Israel not expected to exterminate the people living in the Land and displace them?

The problem isn’t that the people living in Canaan were Gentiles, the problem was that they had racked up 400 years of sin and iniquity.

IsraelResnik says that the Torah doesn’t preach racism and ethnocentrism. The Torah doesn’t have a problem with Gentiles. In fact, Israel was chosen, not because they were the strongest or the best, but because they too had been strangers and out of God’s abundant love for Abraham.

God gave the Israelites possession of the Land according to His promise and to facilitate His revelation to the nations of the world. Leviticus 25:23-24 is God’s declaration that the Land of Israel really belongs to Him, but He has given the Jewish people stewardship over the Land.

This relates to the following:

The Lord’s appointed times which you shall proclaim as holy convocations—My appointed times are these…

Leviticus 23:2

Periodically, someone points this verse out to me indicating that the Moadim are not “Jewish” festivals, but the Lord’s festivals as a way to say that anyone has the right to observe the festivals, and that the Jewish people are not uniquely associated with them.

But let’s look at that verse again with some emphasis added:

The Lord spoke again to Moses, saying, “Speak to the sons of Israel and say to them, ‘The Lord’s appointed times which you shall proclaim as holy convocations—My appointed times are these…'”

Leviticus 23:1-2

The relationship Israel has to the Land is the same relationship it has to the festivals. Yes, it all belongs to Hashem, but He has given Israel the Land and the Festivals to use to proclaim the revelation of God to the nations of the world. It all flows from God through Israel and then to the rest of us. We cannot eliminate or disconnect Israel from God’s revelation or redemptive plan because it is only through Israel and her Messiah that the rest of the people of the nations of the Earth can also be redeemed.

Because of Israel’s “chosenness” and her unique role and relationship with God, some non-Jews have accused the Jewish people, especially Jews in the Messianic Jewish movement, of elitism and even racism. But Resnik says that Israel’s election and possession (of the Land) are for God’s purposes, not Israel’s.

Believers in Messiah aren’t elite, they’re marginal. They/we stand at the margins of the world, not being sucked into its values, as prophetic witnesses. The Ethic of Possession looks forward into the future to the Messianic Age.

Traditionally, the Torah commands that all people in the Land of Israel, from the least to the greatest, from the pauper and stranger to the King, all celebrate the moadim with overwhelming joy. Why? Because it’s a portrait of the coming Messianic Age when there will be no poor and no strangers; when everyone will have a place and a role in the Kingdom through Messiah.

What Do I Think?

Rabbi Resnik was measured and considerate, not only in this session but in all three, in pointing out the relationship Israel has with God and their responsibility to the rest of the world. This has profound implications on the role of Jews and Gentiles in the Messianic movement as prophetic witnesses standing on the margins of the world, summoning the future age of prosperity and peace under King Messiah.

Resnik chose not to emphasize the ceremonial or ritual distinctions between Jews and Gentiles and focused instead on Israel’s responsibilities to the Gentiles. Granted, this was all in grand and sweeping generalizations and none of this is going to answer questions like “should a Gentile wear a tallit when praying”. The universal moral imperative of the Ethic of Possession requires that in their practice including celebrating the Moadim, the Jewish people make provision for the “disadvantaged” of the world as the world lives among them; the poor and the stranger, which Resnik seems to use as a synonym for non-Jews.

So, in a sense, Israel is “advantaged” because the Jewish people are the possessors of the covenants and the chosen of Hashem.

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Great in every respect. First of all, that they were entrusted with the oracles of God.

Romans 3:1-2

Since Gentiles have no direct connection to the Sinai and New Covenants and our linkage to any of the blessings promised by God is only through a single part of God’s covenant with Abraham, I guess you could say we are “disadvantaged” in that we are dependent on Israel fulfilling her responsibilities to God and to us.

AbrahamThis is most directly realized through Messiah, Israel’s firstborn son, so to speak, the living embodiment of the Word of God and His Will, the Savior and King of the world. But that salvation and kingship is inexorably bound to the people and nation of Israel, and any attempt to “de-couple” that relationship undoes God’s redemption…

…not that it’s possible to undo anything God does, we only attempt it by creating theologies and doctrines that spin the illusion that Jesus and salvation are completely separate from God’s covenantal relationship with Israel and the Ethics of Sinai.

After a rocky start in Session One, I find I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Rabbi Resnik’s presentation. It’s a pleasure to add another perspective on the issues with which we all struggle as people of faith, expanding my knowledge and understanding, not only of God and the Jewish people, but of who I am as a Gentile of the nations in the reality of Messiah.

A Gentile’s Book Review of “First Steps in Messianic Jewish Prayer”

It is appropriate for Gentile disciples of Yeshua to participate in Jewish prayer. After all, the Temple in Jerusalem is to be called “a house of prayer for all peoples” (Isaiah 56:7). Yeshua did not come to create a separate religion for Gentiles with different prayers.

-Aaron Eby
“Prayer in Jewish Space,” p.33
First Steps in Messianic Jewish Prayer

I’ve quoted from Aaron’s book twice before, the first time in Messianic Jewish Shabbat Observance and the Gentile and just yesterday in Discovering Myself by the Light of Torah. I suppose it’s appropriate for me to do a more proper book review, and I’m writing it from the expected perspective: that of a non-Jew.

You see, for the most part, Messianic Jewish Prayer is Jewish Prayer. Aaron’s book can be thought of as a “Jewish Prayer 101” class complete with a minimalist siddur at the end of the book. It’s unique in that it has a specific focus on Yeshua HaMoshiach, but a focus on Messiah is not considered unusual according to Aaron:

The traditional Jewish prayers are constantly focused on the Messiah. Although they do not identify Yeshua by name, they do identify the Messiah by character and title.

Some people might object that the traditional Jewish prayers do not say anything about Yeshua since they do not mention him by name. The same is true of the Hebrew scriptures, yet we know that they say a great deal about Yeshua.

-Eby
“Prayer in Jewish Space,” p.29

Aaron starts out in Part One by describing “Prayer in Messianic Judaism” as distinct from the other Judaisms and Christianity. Although describing Jewish Prayer, as I said above, the specific focus is always on Messiah. In essence then, this is an instruction manual about prayer in Messianic Judaism which first and foremost should speak to Jewish people. Granted, devout Jewish people raised in religious households are raised in Jewish prayer, but many of the Jews attracted to Messianic Judaism have not had a traditional Jewish education. Still, the emphasis on Judaism must be recognized. The portions of his book that specifically address Gentiles in Jewish Prayer and in Jewish Space are called out and those are the parts I spent most of my time in.

In fact, the section of Part One called “Prayer in Jewish Space” seems to be a primer on how Jewish Prayer is conducted “procedurally” as well as in terms of “kavanah” (intent). I quoted from this chapter previously when addressing “Gentiles and Jewish Prayer.”

For example, one line in the traditional after-meal blessing offers thanks to God “for the covenant that [he] sealed in our flesh.” It seems problematic for a Messianic Gentile to say this. But should someone who is not Jewish then say “for the covenant that you have written on our hearts?” To do so would imply that Messianic Jews have only a fleshly covenant, whereas the new covenant that is written on hearts belongs only to Messianic Gentiles, God forbid.

-ibid, p.36

First Steps in Messianic Jewish Prayer
First Steps in Messianic Jewish Prayer

For the uninitiated Gentile or for those who are sensitive in one way or another to the distinctions made between Jews and Gentiles in Messianic Jewish space, parts of this book may be a little confusing or disorienting and even seem kind of annoying. At best, it will take some work for Gentiles, even those familiar with Jewish Prayer on some level, to get used to the flow of prayer outlined in the book during a synagogue service or even a Shabbat dinner. At worst, some Gentiles will feel put out not to be considered “Israel” and thus directed to pray the prayers in not exactly the same manner as their Jewish counterparts.

However, this book is designed to not only teach Messianic Jewish Prayer, but to continue to establish the distinctive roles Jews and Gentiles play in Messianic Judaism, with the understanding (from my point of view, anyway) that those roles are not firmly anchored or agreed upon at present.

That said, I was surprised when Aaron didn’t make much in the way of Jewish/Gentile distinctions relative to the standard prayers, particularly the Shema. But let me back up a step:

Gentiles who devote themselves to Yeshua of Nazareth are not only disciples; they are his subjects, and he is their King. In that sense they relate to the nation of Israel and the Jewish people in the same way that a conquered and annexed people is subordinated to a conquering king. These Gentiles are no longer separated from the Messiah or “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise” (Ephesians 2:12). Instead, they share in the inheritance and the destiny of the whole nation. In keeping with this identity, the God-fearing Messianic Gentile should not hesitate to join the Jewish people in formal prayer.

-ibid
“Declaration of Intent for Messianic Gentiles,” p.47

As a non-Jew in Messianic Jewish territory, you could choose to take this one of two ways. The first is that you could rejoice in your (our) unique role in the Kingdom of Messiah as grafted in Gentiles who had no hope and no belonging until our faith in Messiah brought us alongside Israel in devotion to God and sharers in the blessings of the New Covenant promises. The second is that you could feel pushed away, slighted, or “sent to the back of the bus,” so to speak, as if, as a Gentile, you aren’t worthy of sitting in the front of the synagogue with the Jews. By definition, if the nations of the Gentiles are to be considered vassal, then they serve Israel as well as Israel’s King. The wording Aaron uses could be spun in either direction:

As Messianic Gentiles engage in these prayers, they must not lose sight of their own important and esteemed position as the crowning jewels of the nations. A Messianic Gentile who participates in the prayers and petitions of Israel should thus consciously acknowledge that since he is not legally Jewish, his connection to Israel comes only through King Messiah.

-ibid

That’s where the “declaration of intent” comes in. Aaron has a difficult job as the author of this book in balancing the invitation of Gentiles into Jewish prayer and, at the same time, containing and protecting Jewish identity in Jewish space including in (Messianic) Jewish prayer. It’s our faith in Messiah that binds us and it’s difficult, particularly in egalitarian America, to accept the status of a subordinate or vassal citizen in the Kingdom of Messiah, with Jewish Israel being “large and in charge” of the rest of the world (that means the rest of us).

If you can accept that role as many Messianic Gentiles have done, then the only difficulty you may encounter is adapting your prayer life to the structure and language this book presents (depending on your experience in Jewish prayer up to this point). If you can’t, then you’re going to have a difficult time stumbling over the presuppositions Aaron makes about Jewish and Gentile roles in the Messianic Jewish synagogue.

shabbaton
Aaron Eby

Although I’ve attended Shavuot services and had a Shabbat meal or two at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship, which offers Jewish services and includes Jewish prayer, I’ve not had the pleasure of attending any of First Fruits of Zion’s (FFOZ) Shabbaton events. This would have given me a more personal look at how to use The Sabbath Table prayer book (which, as you read this, I’ll be using tonight for the first time), and thus experience Jewish prayer in the manner Aaron describes.

Although I’ve used a number of siddurs before, including Artscroll’s Sefard Siddur, this coming Shabbat will be a unique experience. I’m somewhat used to making the mental and linguistic adjustments Aaron’s book recommends for Gentiles since the language in traditional siddurs assumes the perspective of a Jewish man, but it’s refreshing to come across material that can be specifically adapted to me as a Messianic Gentile. I still expect to be challenged by the flow of Erev Shabbat prayers, especially since there won’t be anyone else present to emulate.

Aaron’s book devotes a lot of attention to the Shema and Amidah, which you’d expect, and as I mentioned before, I was surprised that these pages weren’t covered with caveats and alternate language for Gentiles, since this is the heart of Jewish prayer. Aaron continues to write for the reader, Jewish or Gentile, who knows little or nothing about Jewish prayer. Standard siddurs, although they contain many notes on a variety of topics, assume a certain amount of prior knowledge by the user. Aaron’s book opens the box, so to speak, and lets the reader look inside the prayers, what they mean, and how they were written.

But while there are few mentions of Jewish/Gentile distinction, they can be found:

Tefillin are a distinct marker of Jewish identity. It is not forbidden for a Messianic Gentile to wear them; however there are some communities in which it would be confusing or even offensive for a non-Jew to do so. It is important that Messianic Gentiles who wear tefillin are sensitive to the message that it communicates and that they conform to community standards; it may be advisable for Messianic Gentiles to avoid wearing them in public venues.

-ibid, p.65

And again…

Tzitziyot serve as a marker of Jewish identity. It is not forbidden for Messianic Gentiles to wear them; however, doing so may cause confusion and offense. It is advisable for Messianic Gentiles who choose to wear them to do so with utter discretion.

-ibid, p.69

Several years ago, for a variety of reasons, I put my tefillin and tallit in a box and shoved the box onto a shelf in the back of my closet. One of the reasons I did so was I became convinced that the part of Aaron’s statement about distinctiveness and Jewish identity is correct. This was filtered through the knowledge and experience of being married to a Jewish wife who had come to the conclusion that having a Gentile/Christian husband dressing up as a Jew was a pretty odd thing to do.

israel_prayingNo, she never mentioned it, but after being married for over thirty years, you pick up a few things about how your wife thinks. To honor her as much as for any other reason, I stopped doing pretty much anything that might appear “Jewish”.

I know Messianic Gentiles, including those within FFOZ and at Beth Immanuel, who wear tzitzit and kippot, and within their personal or community contexts, given Aaron’s words above, that would seem to make sense. In fact, since giving up the practice of wearing a kippah, tallit, and laying tefillin, even in private, I’ve been concerned about some potential “blowback,” even if it’s left unsaid, from some Messianic Gentiles and Jews concerning my non-use of Jewish “particulars”. Identity confusion goes both ways, and I can see how I might seem a little too “light” or “insubstantial” for actually not donning a tallit when I pray.

I wonder if someone like me would be considered offensive in a Messianic synagogue that more or less expected most Gentiles to wear a kippah and tallit, especially since Aaron presents the Shema as acceptable for Gentiles to recite, and especially because one of the customs during the Shema is to grasp the tzitzit together in the left hand?

I think the bottom line as Aaron suggested, is for the Messianic Gentile to adapt their practice based on the standards of their local worship community. Being “community-less” at the moment allows me to do more or less anything based on personal standards, but I’ve still got good reasons for not getting that box out of the closet and opening it up.

But that suggests another option. Many Hebrew Roots individuals and groups not only consider wearing a tallit to be an available option, but even an obligation and their right as grafted-in Gentiles. While I disagree with that opinion, since these people operate within their own communities and those communities have set standards permitting and even commanding Gentile men to wear tallitot, then technically, this part of Aaron’s book is adaptable to their needs.

I also started wondering (and I guess this is a community standard thing) if Gentiles could be considered as part of a minyan in Messianic Jewish synagogues. Aaron didn’t address that topic at all, and yet certain prayers, including Birkat HaMazon (Grace After Meals) require a minyan.

As I said, much of the book was taken up with a detailed description of the Shema and Amidah prayers, but then on page 103, starts an analysis of what most Christians call “The Lord’s Prayer.” Aaron refers to it as “Our Father”.

The Didache contains this prayer in a version that is quite similar to that of Matthew, and it instructs believers to recite it three times a day. From the earliest available records, Christians have used this prayer as part of liturgical worship. Like a majority of traditional Jewish prayers, the first-person pronouns of “Our Father” are plural (“us,” “our”). This suggests that the prayer was intended for corporate liturgical use.

-ibid, p.104

While some scholars have suggested that “Our Father” (the Lord’s Prayer) was meant to take the place of the traditional Jewish prayer service and even contains all of the basic elements of said-service, Aaron believes that it was meant to be included at the end of the Amidah for Messianic Jewish and Gentile believers, particularly because the Didache instructs Gentile disciples to recite it three times a day.

The Didache was a sort of “training manual” for how to teach a non-Jew to become a disciple of the Jewish Messiah. It’s thought to have been originally composed by the Apostles or those close to them. The earliest version may have been in the form of oral instructions that accompanied the well-known Acts 15 “Jerusalem Letter.” This all seems to say that the very earliest Gentile disciples of Messiah practiced Jewish prayer alongside their Jewish teachers and mentors, perhaps well beyond the First Century CE.

The final portion of the book is a sort of “mini-siddur” containing the text, in English and Hebrew, for:

  • I Hereby join
  • Declaration of Intent for Messianic Gentiles
  • Shema
  • Amidah
  • Our Father
  • Prayer for the Restoration of Zion

Aaron even put in a “Suggested Readings” list at the back of the book for those who want to go beyond the “Jewish Prayer 101” level.

Shabbat candlesI know many of us in the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements have struggled at one time or another about how to use a siddur, how to adapt it to our faith in Messiah, and how to adapt it for a mixed Jewish/Gentile worship service. Over a decade ago, I regularly worshiped in our local Reform/Conservative synagogue during the time when my children were in Hebrew school, and I had no guide for this sort of thing. I felt pretty awkward.

That sort of dynamic is built-in to a Messianic shul and I think Aaron’s book is at least part of the answer to integrating Jews and Gentiles in a Messianic Jewish prayer service, at least enough to get a lot of people and communities started along the right path.

As I said, it’s not for everyone. If you, as a Gentile, think of yourself as part of “Israel” or a “spiritual Jews” or even espouse a “two-house” theology, then several parts of what Aaron wrote won’t suit you at all. Interestingly enough though, I’d still recommend First Steps in Messianic Jewish Prayer to just about anyone interested in the topic, because the research and level of description that has gone into the book illuminates the origin, purpose, and meaning of the prayers.

Shabbat Shalom.

A Review of the Sinai Ethic: On the Way to Sinai

All her ways are ways of pleasantness. And her paths are peace. She is a tree to those who lay hold of her: Those who hold her fast are called blessed.

Proverbs 3:16-18

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

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

Session One: On the Way to Sinai

I received this packet of two audio CDs containing the three sessions that make up Rabbi Resnik’s “The Sinai Ethic” presentation some time ago, but until now, I haven’t had the opportunity to listen to any of them, let alone write a review. So on a warm and pleasant Sunday afternoon, having completed the construction of my humble sukkah on my back patio, I set about to listen to the first of the three lectures.

I don’t know what I expected, but whatever it was, this wasn’t it.

Actually, it took me awhile to figure out what R. Resnik was getting to, that is, the actual topic and point of his presentation. I suppose it would have helped if I paid attention to the overall theme of this year’s FFOZ Shavuot conference, but since I didn’t attend, it really wasn’t on the forefront of my thoughts.

Rabbi Resnik started out with a familiar topic, the Shabbat. In Exodus 20, he states the commandment is to “remember the Shabbat”, but in Deuteronomy’s repeat of the Ten Commandments, it shifts to “observe the Shabbat”. Of course one must remember in order to keep and observe, or perhaps it’s the other way around. The point is that “remembering” isn’t a matter of holding an idea in your thoughts, but in re-enacting an event. It’s what Shavuot does when Jews are called up to the bema to read the Torah portions, just as the ancient Israelites went up to Mount Sinai to hear the Torah and receive it.

I want to make sure I insert this next part because it’s the cornerstone of Resnik’s talk. He quotes a Rabbi who lived sometime around 400 CE and who said (I’m paraphrasing):

All that is written in the Torah is for the sake of peace.

That’s a nice sentiment, but there is plenty recorded in the Torah that doesn’t sound very peaceful. The taking of the Land of Canaan, for example, was anything but peaceful. In fact, it was war.

Speaking of re-enacting…

Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.’

Exodus 6:6-7 (NASB)

Rabbi Russ Resnik
Rabbi Russ Resnik

There are four promises in these verses that are re-enacted during the Passover seder with the four cups. God’s promises to take the children of Israel out of Egypt, free them from bondage, redeem Israel, and take them for His people as their God.

But there’s a fifth promise spoken of in verse eight:

I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the Lord.’”

God will fulfill the promise He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the promise of the Land of Canaan, and give the Israelites possession of it.

There are two important things to remember here about the Israelites and the Land:

  1. The Promise of the Land
  2. Possession of the Land

In Genesis 12:1-3 and again in Genesis 15:1-16, we see God making this promise to Abraham and acting out its confirmation. This promise is totally without condition. Abraham and his descendants through Isaac and Jacob don’t have to do anything at all for this promise to be given to them, the promise that their descendants will one day possess the Land. Nothing can take this promise away.

But here’s where the “Sinai Ethic” comes in:

Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.

Genesis 15:16

The promise is unconditional, but taking possession isn’t. The Israelites couldn’t take possession on a whim. Certainly Abraham couldn’t possess any part of the Land, even though technically, he held the deed. In fact, after Sarah dies, he must buy the cave of Machpelah and the surrounding field for a hefty price in order to bury his wife.

Abraham and his descendants received the promise of the Land, but they couldn’t take possession until the iniquity of the inhabitants in current possession reached a certain threshold that triggered God’s judgment upon them.

But that’s not the only condition. In fact, the entire giving of the Torah at Sinai was not only the list of conditions the Children of Israel had to obey to hold up their end of the covenant, it was the conditions for taking possession of the Land. And while the promise isn’t conditional, taking and keeping possession is.

What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.

Galatians 3:17

sinai
Sinai

Resnik says the context of this verse has to do with the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles, but the underlying principle has to do with promises and possession. The fact that God made the Sinai Covenant with Israel in no way made void or invalidated the promise He made with Abraham. A subsequent covenant or event never nullifies a previous covenant or a promise of God.

Period.

(As an aside, going back to the context of the above-quoted verse, I could interpret this, based on the principle, to mean that the giving of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles in no way undermines or reverses God’s covenant promises to Israel, either the Sinai or the New Covenant, but that’s not what Resnik was driving at, so I digress)

Resnik applied this principle to our day-to-day lives as individual believers. The world doesn’t like committed religious believers and Resnik says some of that is our fault. We have become arrogant. We say we have the promises, and forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection, and at least some of us talk and walk around like we’re “too cool for school” (my words, not Resnik’s). The technical term in religious circles is “Triumphalism.”

Yes, the promises we have received as believers are true and they are real, but we haven’t taken possession of them yet. The resurrection has yet to come, just as Abraham had the promises but did not have possession. Like him, we need to learn to walk humbly before God and man, living out our faith day by day in obedience.

“Then it shall come about when the Lord your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied, then watch yourself, that you do not forget the Lord who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name.”

Deuteronomy 6:10-13

Taking and then keeping possession of the Land required obedience to God’s commandments. When the Israelites obeyed God, they lived well in the Land. When they didn’t, the promise of the Land was still intact, but typically the Israelites went into exile and (temporarily) lost possession of the Land. In some ways, the exile isn’t really over today because Messiah hasn’t returned, many Jews still live outside Israel, and national Israel has enmity with her neighbors (and probably the rest of the world).

sukkot jerusalem
Sukkot in Jerusalem

Which brings us back to that Rabbinic quote about peace, the Torah, and the Sinai Ethic.

Resnik quoted a modern Orthodox Jewish scholar (I tried looking up what I thought his name was on Google but got nothing). As near as I was able to write it down, in part, this Orthodox scholar said he preaches “love of the Land with a high degree of non-violence.”

The gist of this scholar’s statement and Resnik’s agreement to it is that we shouldn’t be too caught up with political and military power for holding onto the modern state of Israel, particularly when it violates peace in the region and around the world. The Jewish people should be prepared to once again lose possession of the Land for the sake of upholding peace, because we know, as the Orthodox Jewish scholar knows, that when Messiah comes (returns), the Jewish people will get back possession of the Land based on the promises anyway.

That was a lot for me to swallow, but let me continue.

It’s not through politics or armies that the promises are fulfilled, but through returning to God in deep teshuvah and being obedient in all His ways. Resnik was careful to point out that we do indeed have a part to play in all this. He’s not advocating total pacifism and immediate surrender to Israel’s enemies, he apparently just wants to put everything in its proper context in that God is the one who will ultimately cause His promises to come to pass.

Remember, Messiah is called Sar Shalom, the Prince of Peace.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

Matthew 5:9

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…

Matthew 5:43-45

To be “sons of God” in this case is to reflect the nature of God. Resnik explained to his listeners that Yeshua wasn’t preaching some pie-in-the-sky ideal, but how to live out practical life in that place and time. Israel was occupied by the brutal Roman empire, and yet the Master preached not only loving your neighbors, your fellow Jews, but even the harsh persecutors, those who pursue you, all for the sake of peace. Jesus wasn’t leading a revolution, even if his disciples and the common people who believed he was the Messiah wanted him to.

At the end of his first of three lectures, this is where Rabbi Resnik left us with the Sinai Ethic.

What Do I Think?

Like I said above, this was totally unexpected. I thought there would be some other focus (though I didn’t imagine what it would be) than the juxtaposition of possession of the Land of Israel by the Jewish people, and the potential for losing possession, all for the sake of the higher value of peace.

One thing I do know is that Messiah will return as a conquering King in the spirit of David, not a “meek and mild lamb”. During his first appearance as the “Word made flesh,” he didn’t put up a fight, even for his own life, but indeed, was led to the slaughter, so to speak, all for the sake of bringing atonement, not only to the Jewish people, but to the world.

That’s not how he’s going to come back.

Of course, since he’s not here yet, Resnik may have a point, but Israel has been through too many wars and won most of them against all odds (and I believe through the providence of God) for me to believe that current Jewish possession of the Land is entirely by human effort. I believe God is already playing a part, a big one, in Jewish people living in Israel today.

I’m not Jewish and I’ve never even been to Israel, but something just sticks in my throat when I even think about the Jews, under any circumstances, rolling over and giving the Land to Abbas and his cronies. “Peace” in the Arab world is something of an illusion. When the Arabs don’t have Jews to fight, they fight each other. I know that probably sounds racist, but that’s the history of the Arab peoples across the long centuries. In fact, Dennis Prager late last month, published an article which highlights my point called What the Arab World Produces.

abandoned_israelBut since “The Sinai Ethic” is made up of all three sessions, with this being just the first one, I could be jumping to a hasty conclusion. Ecclesiastes 3:8 says there’s a time for war and a time for peace. God has commanded war for the sake of His people Israel on numerous occasions. The ancient Israelites took the Land originally by force of arms at the command of Hashem, Master of Heaven’s Armies, so it’s not like the Torah only teaches peace and self-sacrifice. Yes, it does teach those things, but as a former instructor of mine once said, “Once in action, watch the timing.”

I’ll listen to and review the second of the three sessions by the by which should add some dimension to what “the Sinai Ethic” means.

Sermon Review of the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews: Our Hope is not in Heaven

Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And this we will do if God permits.

Hebrews 6:1-3 (ESV)

The Evangelical gospel asks, “Are you certain you are going to go to heaven when you die?” The Christian objective seems to be to secure a place in heaven, but the Bible says very little about heaven. Find out why most passages about heaven are actually not about heaven at all in this installment on the basic teachings of the Messiah from Hebrews 6.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
Sermon Twenty-four: Our Hope is not in Heaven
Originally presented on July 27, 2013
from the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series

Lancaster starts out his sermon by telling a joke about Heaven. I won’t retell it here. You can listen to it in the recording (link above) or read it at the beginning of Chapter 8: “Our Hope is not in Heaven,” pp 97-8 in his book Elementary Principles: Six Foundational Principles of Ancient Jewish Christianity. The thrust of today’s sermon is based on one phrase from Hebrews 6:2, “the resurrection from the dead.”

He’s talked before about what I call the truncated gospel message of Christianity which basically says, “Believe in Jesus so you can go to Heaven when you die.” That’s the whole point of being a Christian for many believers. The other part of it is to convince as many people as possible to believe in Jesus so they can go to Heaven when they die.

Except, you don’t go to Heaven when you die and you don’t stay in Heaven forever as a disembodied spirit after you die.

According to Lancaster, and I agree with him, there’s a lot of confusion about Heaven in Christianity, especially since the Bible doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about Heaven. If you are a traditional Evangelical Christian, that statement might seem confusing. After all, didn’t Jesus and the apostles talk about Heaven all the time?

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Matthew 3:2

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness…

Matthew 6:33

And as you go, preach, saying, `The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’

Matthew 10:7

Also see Philippians 3:20, Colossians 1:5, and 2 Timothy 4:18 and many other verses in the apostolic scriptures that mention Heaven.

keys to the kingdomExcept the Heaven mentioned in all or most of these verses isn’t the Heaven in the sky where God lives, it’s what’s called a circumlocution, a way of talking about God without saying “God.” In other words, when Jesus said “Kingdom of Heaven” as recorded in Matthew’s gospel, he was really saying “Kingdom of God,” and that Kingdom will finally be completely established here on earth when Jesus comes back as King and Lord.

The First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) television series A Promise of What is to Come contains a number of episodes that discuss what the Kingdom of Heaven is, where it is, how it works, why Peter has the keys of the Kingdom, and how treasure can be stored there. See episodes such as The Kingdom is Now, Seek First the Kingdom, Thy Kingdom Come, Keys to the Kingdom, Foretaste of the Kingdom, Treasure in Heaven, and Restoring the Kingdom for details. Each episode is about thirty minutes long and the content opens up and expands in great detail about the concepts Lancaster covers in his sermon. In fact, Lancaster seems to be summarizing all of that material in his thirty-four minute lecture today.

Just a couple of things. Philippians 3:20 talks about Christians having citizenship in Heaven. Does that mean when we die, we go live in Heaven as citizens, like how we have American citizenship (or whatever national citizenship you may have)? No. We are resurrected physically on earth and live here in bodies in the Messianic Kingdom. Our citizenship may be in Heaven, but we’ll be living here. After all, Paul was born a Roman citizen but he wasn’t born in Rome. He never even lived there, at least not until near the end of his life.

According to Lancaster, there is a paradise, a Gan Eden (Garden of Eden) where the spirits of the righteous go when the person dies, but that’s temporary. The spirit is reunited with the body at the resurrection.

Remember the empty tomb and Jesus?

While they were telling these things, He Himself stood in their midst and said to them, “Peace be to you.” But they were startled and frightened and thought that they were seeing a spirit. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when He had said this, He showed them His hands and His feet. While they still could not believe it because of their joy and amazement, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave Him a piece of a broiled fish; and He took it and ate it before them.

Luke 24:36-43

This is the resurrection we can expect, because Jesus was the first fruits of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:20). We will also be resurrected in our original bodies (remember, Jesus still had the wounds, he didn’t get a new body) but we will not die again. This is what we can expect after we die and are resurrected, not going to Heaven like Casper the Friendly Ghost to float around on clouds for eternity.

What Did I Learn?

Since I’ve watched all of the FFOZ television episodes I mentioned above, I already had a pretty good idea what Lancaster was going to teach about. Lancaster based a number of things he taught on the writings of Christian theologian N.T. Wright, as well as his own teaching What About Heaven and Hell.

wind-sky-spirit-ruachLancaster also said that the reason Christians are so confused about Heaven and Hell is because Christianity separated itself from Judaism, and thus from the first century CE Jewish view of the meaning of the resurrection. He even went so far as to compare typical Christian understanding about what happens when we die to how the gnostics saw the dichotomy between the earthly corruptness and heavenly purity. Generally, Judaism doesn’t have “issues” with a flesh and blood physical existence (unless you get into Jewish mysticism, but that’s another story).

I see these comments as a continuation of the points Lancaster has made in other sermons in this series. He seems to be advocating a return to Judaism (specifically Messianic Judaism) for believers in Jesus, with an eye on first century C.E. Judaism. While the idea has merit, it’s important to remember that as the various Judaisms evolved over the last two-thousand years, they likely also do not contain perfect interpretations of the scriptures and probably possess a few misunderstandings of their own. We can all do the best we can to understand what God is saying to us in the Bible, but when Messiah returns, I suspect he’ll have to correct us in a few of the details of our doctrine and theology.

Is our hope in Heaven? It depends. If we put our hope, according to Lancaster, in being a “floaty ghost” in Heaven when we die, then no. If, on the other hand, we put our hope in God who is in Heaven (yes, Heaven is real), then yes…our hope is in Heaven, our hope is in God.

This too is one of the elementary teachings of the faith, as stated by the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews, one of those “milk” things.

I’ve become quite accustomed to the belief in a physical resurrection and an existence on earth as part of the literal Kingdom of God with King Messiah reigning on the throne of David in Jerusalem, so I didn’t experience any surprises or curve balls in today’s sermon. If, on the other hand, you are an Evangelical Christian who has been taught you’re going to become a “floaty soul” on a cloud playing a harp for all eternity when you die (actually the harps seem unescapable in Heaven based on Revelation 5:8, 14:2, and 15:2), then you might want to listen to Lancaster’s sermon or, better yet, spend a few hours viewing the selection of TV episodes I mentioned above (just click the links and view them online).

It could be an eye opener.