Tag Archives: Jewish King

Standing Insecurely at the Threshold

Hashem, God, Master of Legions, hear my prayer; listen, O God of Jacob, Selah. Look upon our shield, O God, and gaze at Your anointed one’s face. For one day in Your courtyards is better than a thousand [elsewhere]; I prefer to stand exposed at the threshold of my God’s house than to dwell securely in the tents of wickedness.

Psalm 84:9-11 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Almost a year ago, I wrote a “meditation” called A Christian at the Gates of the Temple of God. Not much has changed since I composed that last part of my “meaningful life” series. I always imagine that I’ve progressed in my life of faith more than I really have. Reviewing year old (and even older) blog posts shows me that I’m asking the same questions now that I’ve been asking for a long time.

The classic question is, “Where do I go from here?”

The generic answer is always “forward” but I sometimes wonder if instead of actually moving along the trail, I’m simply standing still, or to use a water-based metaphor, am I just treading water?

If so, then I don’t think I’m alone. I could state the obvious and say that many people in churches and synagogues are probably making no more spiritual progress than I am, but they have plenty of company to do it with, so I guess that means it’s “OK.” When you are a “free agent” or “unaffiliated,” the dynamic feels a bit different. When you’re alone, it gives the impression that lack of progress is somehow tied to lack of fellowship.

I suppose fingers could be wagged at me for the choices that I’ve made, but so be it.

I had coffee with a fellow the other day who reminded me a lot of myself. He too seems to be spinning his wheels in his life of faith. He too is unaffiliated. I realize that there are a number of people I’ve been acquainted with over the years who, for one reason or another, do not attend a congregation or faith group. Many have been “burned” by organized religion or some aspect of it and feel that they are safer when worshiping alone or just with their families.

I realize that a significant portion of this population is classified as “fringe,” “oddball,” or worse, and many of them really are rather “unusual” in their theological conceptualizations.

I don’t think I’m one of that crowd, but I’m sure a lot of Christians and Jews would disagree with me. I don’t think my coffee companion belongs to that group either, but again, when you don’t follow some denomination’s pre-programmed doctrine and dogma, it’s bound to look a little odd to an outside observer.

What spawned this particular “meditation” was my reading of Psalm 84 and particularly verse 11:

I prefer to stand exposed at the threshold of my God’s house than to dwell securely in the tents of wickedness.

According to the psalmist, his options were standing exposed at the threshold of God’s house or dwelling securely in the tents of wickedness. I don’t see my two choices as exactly those, but they come close. In writing A Christian at the Gates of the Temple of God, I envisioned myself at the threshold of the Temple of God; the actual Temple as it stood in Holy Jerusalem thousands of years ago. It might surprise you to hear that I sometimes imagine myself praying silently in the court of the Gentiles, off to one corner, in the back, in the shadows, beseeching Hashem, God of Jacob, “have mercy on an unworthy Gentile.”

OK, I’m a Christian, which means I have a relationship with Hashem under the Messianic covenant, but nothing about that removes the necessity for humility and submission when standing in the House of God. I read verse 11 and the image I just described came rushing back to me, along with my “Christian at the Gates” blog post. Then, I remembered this:

It will happen in the end of days: The mountain of the Temple of Hashem will be firmly established as the head of the mountains, and it will be exalted above the hills, and all the nations will stream to it. Many peoples will go and say, “Come, let us go up to the Mountain of Hashem, to the Temple of the God of Jacob, and He will teach us of His ways and we will walk in His paths.” –Isaiah 2:2-3 (Stone Edition Tanakh)

Actually, I find that vision rather intimidating. It’s one thing to imagine being a first century God-fearer standing alone and isolated in the court of the Gentiles in Herod’s Temple, and another thing entirely to be among a crowd of tens or even hundreds of thousands, making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem, climbing up to the restored Temple, actually anticipating the presence, no matter how distant, of the King of Kings, physically, majestically, in glory, standing before his people.

Who am I to stand in the presence of the Messiah King?

And imagining all that, I feel very small.

Only yesterday, I posted yet another illustration of Jesus as the Jewish King rather than the “warm and fuzzy,” blue-eyed, Christian “goy” Savior. Not that he isn’t the Savior, he just isn’t that cute and cuddly guy of uncertain European lineage (such as the image I’ve provided below) who we often see in the photos and paintings reproduced in some of our Bibles.

I’m writing this on Sunday morning and so it’s easy to picture the hundreds, the thousands, the millions of people, in my own little corner of the world and all over the world, sitting in church pews, listening to the sermon, listening to the “praise and worship team,” getting coffee, eating donuts, going to adult Sunday school, listening to a pre-programmed Bible study, everybody agreeing with everybody else.

OK, I’m being cynical. I’m also remembering my former church experience. Among many other states, it produced a state of security. Everybody (as long as they agreed with the program) belonged. But do I belong there or am I the guy standing at the threshold of some place where he probably doesn’t belong (at least not yet)? Am I the Christian standing exposed at the gates of the Jewish Temple, when I could be dwelling securely in the “tents” of the church?

No, I’m not comparing the church to the “tents of wickedness” but I am drawing a comparison of sorts. I really would rather stand, a mass of insecurity, isolated and alone, trembling with fear at the threshold of the Temple of God than seated comfortably in a pew or a folding chair at my neighborhood Christian church.

I’m not much of an adventurer or risk taker. I like adventure stories, but living out that kind of life would actually scare the daylights out of me.

On the other hand, that’s what I’m doing in my walk of faith, and that’s why I’m scared to death every day that I walk the path. I can’t dwell in the secure and safe and rather boring and unchallenging churches. Many, many true disciples of the Master find God within those walls, in the sermons, in the songs, in the Bible studies. But not me.

But for me, I find him within the Temple in Jerusalem, though it has yet to be restored, and I stand every morning, in the world of my imagination, in the court of the Gentiles, pleading before the God of Abraham, to look upon me and not turn away, invoking the name of my Master as his disciple.

Standing exposed at the threshold. May God grant me the courage to one day take the next step and to enter His House of Prayer.

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Pondering the Puzzle

“I have to confess, I don’t really get it. If you believe in Jesus, you believe he is the King. The Lord. The Boss. Your Boss. There is no other option. It’s an integral part of his identity. The fact that some people have lost sight of that fact is evidence, to me, of how far we have come from a really Biblical idea of who Jesus is. We have forgotten that there is no such thing as a Jesus who is not our King, a Jesus we don’t have to obey.”

-Boaz Michael
President and Founder of
First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ)

I’ve mentioned most of this recently, but this is what’s available in my mind and in my blog for today’s “morning meditation.”

I keep trying to turn my rather unusual conceptualization of my Christian faith over and over in my mind, as if examining a rare piece of pottery crafted in ancient times. I’m pondering the runes and arcane markings on this archaeological object trying to tease one more clue to its nature and origin out of it; trying to discover one more secret. No, I’m not a latter-day Indiana Jones, but I am curious.

I’m curious about things I really don’t have the educational background to explore. That doesn’t stop me from wanting to explore them, but it’s like wanting to explore the deepest parts of an ocean but not knowing how to swim. The best I can do is rely on people who are expert oceanographers (who know so much more than just how to swim), their books, their findings, and the occasional special on PBS, to provide glimpses of what I want to know.

I’ll never be able to do the exploring first hand, anymore than I’ll ever be able to read and understand the runes and markings of the “faith object” I’m holding in my hands. I have to depend on someone else’s translation and hope they aren’t selling me a bill of goods, so to speak.

Now that I’ve tossed out sufficient qualifiers, here’s a few of the things I’m curious about. As I said, I may have mentioned them before.

Is the New Testament as “authoritative” as the Old Testament? That is, can we rely on the New Testament writings, including the Gospels, the Epistles, and the Apocalyptic writings to have the same authority of law as do the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings in the Tanakh?

That’s a tough one, but here’s my opinion, for what it’s worth (and not being a theologian, I guess it’s not worth all that much).

I would say that since the Gospels relate the direct teachings of the Jewish Messiah, then they would have an impact equal to and perhaps greater than the Torah. No, they don’t particularly override Torah (although traditional Christianity will disagree with me here) but they represent the correct presentation and interpretation of God’s intent and will for the Jewish people and ultimately, for the world. If a Christian wants to take something as “law” in the New Testament, it should be teachings of the Messiah in the Gospels.

But what about the Epistles? Is literally every word of every letter Paul, Peter, and James wrote to be considered undying and unchangeable law, applicable in exactly the same manner now as they were in the lives of the different churches they were addressed to in the first century diaspora?

Another tough one. Shooting from the hip, I’d tend to say, “no.” This is where a degree in New Testament scholarship would be handy because I suspect that digging into the different layers of these letters and asking questions like, which ones are considered authentic, who actually wrote them, to whom, under what conditions, and so forth, would yield fascinating results.

What if, for instance, the majority of the material in these letters are meant not to establish new laws and traditions for the church, but to interpret and apply pre-existing Bible law to people and situations for which the law of God was not originally intended? After all, Paul only had a Jewish template by which he could comprehend service to his Creator as a Jew. How does all that work when you’re trying to build a practical worship community for a bunch of non-Jews that is centered around the Jewish Messiah?

No wonder Paul’s letters are so difficult to understand, even today, and why there is so much debate around them among New Testament scholars.

And the Apocalyptic writings? What about John’s Revelation or for that matter, portions of the Gospel of John? Mystic visions are a vast mystery that I’m not even sure how to classify. It’s not a direct teaching of the Master and it isn’t a commentary by the Apostle to the Gentiles. It’s a look behind the veil between Heaven and Earth but I’m uncertain what to make of it all.

What else do I ponder?

When the Messiah returns, what will he teach? I’ll narrow this down a bit. There’s some debate about what sort of “Judaism” Jesus will practice and promote upon his return and as he establishes his reign in Jerusalem. Most Christians probably don’t consider that he’ll practice a Judaism at all but rather a perfect form of Christianity. At best, Gentile believers would probably accept that he’d reset the Jewish calendar back to what was being practiced during his first incarnation among humanity, that is, what many folks out there would call “Biblical Judaism.”

This is opposed to what we refer to as “Rabbinic Judaism” which is generally frowned upon my most Christians as being full of man-made rules and exists as the modern inheritors of the “leaven of the Pharisees,” which is not a complement.

But wait a minute.

A careful examination of the teachings of Jesus and his interactions with the Jewish authorities and common people of his day seems to reveal that, for the most part, he was “OK” with first century normative Judaism, including all of its Halacha and traditions. While the church tends to view first century Jewish tradition as wholly inconsistent with the Bible and a harsh punishment the corrupt Jewish religious authorities set upon the shoulders of the ordinary Jewish population, it was neither invented by those authorities, nor considered bizarre or unusual by Jews.

The topic of rabbinic authority, opinions, and rulings in the time of Jesus and before is enormously complicated and beyond my meager skills to investigate, but I highly recommend Rabbi Joseph Telushkin’s book Hillel: If Not Now, When? which provides an insight into Hillel, a great Jewish teacher and leader who lived a generation before Jesus.

Let’s just say, for the sake of argument, that Jesus was perfectly fine with normative Judaism of the late second temple period, which would have differed from the Judaism of previous eras. What if…just what if when Jesus returns, he’ll be OK with normative Judaism as it exists on that day?

I have no way to back any of this up, but the assumption in Christianity and in some parts of Messianic Judaism is that Jesus will make radical changes to Jewish practice, probably tossing out most or all of what has been established in the past 2,000 years in favor of a more Bible-based model. All of the rulings, opinions, discussions and arguments of the sages would have been in vain. The scholarly teachings of the Rambam and Rashi would be dust. The Baal Shem Tov, the Chassidim, and the modern Chabad would be swept out of existence. Something more acceptable to the members of your local church would be installed in their place.

But is that necessarily true? If indeed, Jesus returns as the Jewish King, establishes his rule in Jerusalem, raises Israel as the head of all the nations of the earth, is it not also conceivable that his practice as a religious Jew might be accepting of at least some, if not most of Rabbinic Judaism?

Something to consider.

Last point. Re-read my quote of Boaz Michael from above before continuing.

One of the criticisms of Messianic Judaism is that it tends to focus more on the Torah and on Judaism than anything Messianic. That is, Jesus seems to take a backseat to Moses. Judaism is more important than Messianic.

Ironically, there are many non-Jewish practitioners in Messianic Judaism who are guilty of this, people who all but turn their back on Jesus but who will focus with great intent on how to tie their tzitzit and the correct pronunciation of their Hebrew prayers.

But what about the Messiah? Where does he fit in? Why have his teachings been subordinated to the Torah of Moses? Isn’t the Jewish King even greater than Moshe?

I think this has been a real problem in Messianic Judaism traditionally and it’s about time to start correcting it. I don’t doubt it will cause a great shake up in many congregations and reintegrating the Jewish Messiah as the center of Messianic Judaism will be quite a chore.

I have no idea how to make it work.

But figuring all this stuff out isn’t the point of today’s “meditation.” The point is just to open the box all this stuff has been stored in for so long, brush off the dust, and give them some air.

Fair wiser heads than mine are going to have to find a way to answer these questions. All I know how to do is ask them.

“If both Judaism and Christianity are correct in their definitions of redemption, then Jesus must do both what Judaism is expecting the Messiah to do, and what Christians expect him to do. This means that Jesus will do more than come back and save those who believe in him from sin and death. He will also re-gather his people Israel from exile and restore them to their land in a state of blessing and peace (Isaiah 35, 48:12-22, 52:1-12; Jeremiah 31).”

-Boaz Michael