Tag Archives: Moses

FFOZ TV Review: None Greater Than John

ffoz_tv11_1Episode 11: Jesus tells his disciples that the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than John the Immerser. Does that mean that the worst Christian is better than John? Episode eleven will clear up the confusion over this passage by putting terms back into their proper Hebraic context. It will be shown that Jesus meant that the most insignificant prophets of the Messianic Era will be superior to the greatest prophets of our era. One day soon we will all be like prophets, all mankind will have revelation, and through the gospel we can take ahold of this now.

-from the Introduction to FFOZ TV: The Promise of What is to Come
Episode 11: None Greater Than John

The Lesson: The Mystery of Least in the Kingdom

This episode departs from the discussion of atonement and restoration of national Israel and the world, which we viewed in the previous series of five or six episodes including repentance and the Messianic Kingdom is now, and explores something very specific about John the Baptist.

Amen, I say to you, none among those born of a woman has arisen greater than Yochanan the Immerser; yet the smallest in the kingdom of Heaven will be greater than he.

Matthew 11:11 (DHE Gospels)

First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) teacher and author Toby Janicki tells the audience that traditionally in Christianity, this verse has been used to say that even the worst New Testament Christian is better than the best Old Testament Jew. He also describes a form of dispensationalism, the Old Testament dispensation of the Law, in which John was the greatest prophet of his time, and the New Testament dispensation of grace, where believers in Jesus are even greater than John.

This belief has fueled a long history of replacement theology in the church as well as a great deal of blatant anti-Semitism. Strangely enough, some Christians have even interpreted this verse to mean that John the Baptist will not be in the Messianic Kingdom, even though Jesus already said that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be in the Kingdom (Matthew 8:11). How can this be? Well, it can’t be. There’s no logic in excluding John from the Kingdom, particularly if Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be there, and here we see the danger in taking a single verse from the Bible and developing an entire theological position on it. As this television program has repeatedly stated, you must engage the original Jewish context of scripture and try to comprehend how the audience of Matthew’s gospel would have understood his words.

You also have to link the various relevant portions of the Bible together to add context and meaning to what you are studying, such as the following:

Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist!

Matthew 11:11 (NASB)

Since that time no prophet has risen in Israel like Moses, whom the Lord knew face to face, for all the signs and wonders which the Lord sent him to perform in the land of Egypt against Pharaoh, all his servants, and all his land, and for all the mighty power and for all the great terror which Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

Deuteronomy 34:10-12 (NASB)

ffoz_tv11_tobyEven among modern observant Jews, Moses is revered as the greatest prophet who ever lived. He was greater than any prophet who came before or since and certainly, he could be considered the greatest prophet of his generation. But in comparing the passages we read in Deuteronomy to Matthew, Toby tells us that what Jesus was actually saying is that John the Baptist was the greatest prophet of his generation, just as Moses was the greatest prophet of his generation.

Compare: “no prophet has arisen” to “there has not arisen anyone,” and you’ll see the linkage Jesus was using to paint a picture to his listeners of who John was in their day.

How was John great? He was the greatest prophet in his generation. Here we arrive at Toby’s first clue in our attempt to solve the Mystery of the Least in the Kingdom:

Clue 1: John was the greatest prophet alive in his generation, just as Moses was the greatest prophet alive in his generation.

But we won’t get very far if we don’t understand the Hebrew words and meanings behind the words “least” and “greatest” in our English Bibles. To take the next step, we visit FFOZ teacher and translator Aaron Eby in Israel.

Aaron tells us that in Hebrew, the words Great and Least or Big and Little are “Gadol” and “Katan” or to say “little one,” “Katone.” Gadol isn’t just “big,” it can mean “great,” “older,” “more significant,” “mighty,” worthy,” and so forth. Katan can mean “little,” “younger,” “less significant,” “weak,” “unworthy,” and so forth. For instance, in Jeremiah 10:6, God is referred to as “great” (gadol) and His Name is “great” (gadol).

To describe katan or katone, Aaron cites the following scripture:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

“Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Matthew 18:1-6 (ESV)

ffoz_tv11_aaronHere, Jesus is using children as an example of significance or worthiness of people in the Kingdom of Heaven or the Messianic Era. He’s also, according to Aaron, talking about how disciples of ancient Jewish Rabbis were considered. An experienced and learned disciple was called “great” or “gadol,” but an inexperienced and unlearned disciple was called “least” or “little one,” which in Hebrew are katan and katone. So the “little ones” being referred to in the above verse aren’t literally children, but disciples of Jesus who were inexperienced, vulnerable, and uneducated. If you caused one of these inexperienced disciples, these “little ones,” to sin, it would be very, very bad for you.

Back in the studio, Toby pulls together Aaron’s language lesson to give us our second clue:

Clue 2: Great meant high-ranking, experienced, prestigious, while Least meant low-ranking, inexperienced, insignificant.

But we still don’t understand how Jesus could say that even the least or most inexperienced believer (who could be Jewish or Gentile) in the Messianic Age could be greater than the prophet John the Baptist. One more clue is needed to unravel the rest of the mystery.

To do that, Toby takes us back to the prophets in the Tanakh (Old Testament):

They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Jeremiah 31:34 (NASB)

“It will come about after this
That I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind;
And your sons and daughters will prophesy,
Your old men will dream dreams,
Your young men will see visions.
“Even on the male and female servants
I will pour out My Spirit in those days.”

Joel 2:28-29 (NASB)

Both prophets are talking about the Messianic Age, and Toby interprets their words to mean that everyone in the Kingdom, from the least to the greatest, will receive an overwhelming outpouring of prophesy, so much so, that by comparison, they all will have greater command of prophesy in that age than the degree of prophesy John possessed nearly two-thousand years ago at the close of the Second Temple period. This is the third and final clue.

Clue 3: In the Messianic Era, everyone will be a prophet.

The idea is that from the least of the prophets in the Kingdom to the greatest, the level of prophesy and apprehension of God they experience will still be greater than what John the Baptist experienced in his generation. This isn’t excluding John from the Kingdom and it isn’t saying that New Testament Christians are better than Old Testament Jews (or any Jewish person today), it’s saying that in the Messianic Era, God’s Spirit will be poured out to such a degree that an unprecedented surge of prophetic power will be possessed by literally everyone in the Kingdom.

What Did I Learn?

ffoz_tv11_childrenA lot. First of all, I didn’t even consider how Matthew 11:11 could be interpreted in isolation to support anti-Semitic thought and replacement theology in Christian history (and probably in some churches even today). I also didn’t fully capture the picture of the Messianic Era as being full of prophets, nor did I see the linkage between the different passages in the Bible that both Toby and Aaron referenced. I also had no idea that Matthew 18:1-6 referred not specifically to children but to the status of inexperienced and experienced disciples of a Rabbi, and specifically disciples of Rabbi Yeshua (Jesus).

When Toby mentioned Joel 2:28-29, I remembered a teaching he presented at the First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Shavuot conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin last spring. He gave me my final “clue” to solve my own mystery of how Gentiles are connected to God in a covenant relationship while retaining our status as people from the nations who are called by His Name. I wrote about that experience nearly four months ago, and I invite you to read it as an extension of the material I’m presenting here today, as well as providing additional details to the television teaching of Toby’s and Aaron’s.

For me, this was a fascinating and eye-opening episode. I tend to think of myself as experienced enough in the Hebrew Roots and Messianic Jewish realms to be beyond the “Messianic Judaism 101” stage, but I guess I’m not, at least in this area. I do wonder about Toby’s source material though, especially in connecting Matthew 11:11 back to Deuteronomy 34:10-12. I don’t doubt Toby’s word and I have no reason not to believe he isn’t correct, but information doesn’t come out of thin air. One of the things I wish for this television series is a set of “digging deeper” links or even just a Bibliography of the sources used to construct the lessons provided in each episode.

I’ll review another episode next week.

Wednesday Night in My Pastor’s Office

iron-sharpens-iron-hotWhat then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God…”

Romans 3:9-11 (NASB)

There is no person on earth so righteous, who does only good and does not sin.

Ecclesiastes 7:20

Reading the suggestions for ridding oneself of character defects, someone might say, “These are all very helpful for someone who has character defects, but I do not see anything about myself that is defective.”

In the above-cited verse, Solomon states what we should all know: no one is perfect. People who cannot easily find imperfections within themselves must have a perception so grossly distorted that they may not even be aware of major defects. By analogy, if a person cannot hear anything, it is not that the whole world has become absolutely silent, but that he or she has lost all sense of hearing and may thus not be able to hear even the loudest thunder.

In his monumental work, Duties of the Heart, Rabbeinu Bachaye quotes a wise man who told his disciples, “If you do not find defects within yourself, I am afraid you have the greatest defect of all: vanity.” In other words, people who see everything from an “I am great/right” perspective will of course believe that they do no wrong.

When people can see no faults in themselves, it is generally because they feel so inadequate that the awareness of any personal defects would be devastating. Ironically, vanity is a defense against low self-esteem. If we accept ourselves as fallible human beings and also have a sense of self-worth, we can become even better than we are.

Today I shall…

…be aware that if I do not find things within myself to correct, it may be because I am threatened by such discoveries.

-Rabbi Abraham J. Twersky
“Growing Each Day, Av 25”

Iron sharpens iron, So one man sharpens another.

Proverbs 27:17 (NASB)

Last night I met with Pastor Randy for the first time in several weeks. He has been away in Southern California as part of his Ph.D program and just returned late last week. Prior to our meeting, he sent me two PDFs as email attachments, one was a chart he had drawn as a graphic representation all the covenants, and the other was a text description of the covenants. I have to admit, I was intimidated. He was responding to something I had blogged earlier in the week. I wasn’t sure what to expect.

In response and to prepare for the meeting, I sent him a link to my blog post Abraham, Jews, and Christians, since I suspected we’d be discussing the differences between how Jews and Christians are connected by covenant to God and specifically why I believe that the Torah, the conditions pertaining to the Sinai covenant, still apply to the Jewish people today.

AbrahamI hadn’t slept well the night before, so I was running on three hours rest and as much chutzpah as I could summon. All I wanted to do was to go to bed (our meeting was scheduled for 6:30 p.m., so as you can imagine, I must have been really tired), but I wanted to have this meeting, too. Armed with my hardcopy printouts and my Bible, I went to church.

Actually, it was a blast. I had a great time. When we started talking, I forgot completely about being tired. Pastor gifted me with Thomas Schreiner’s book 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law, which I’ll start as soon as I finish the Septuagint book. I suspect Schreiner’s book is going to be a “challenge” to me, but that’s almost always a good way to learn. During our conversation, he suggested half a dozen other books for me, which I’m not going to reference here, so I suspect my reading list has been reserved for the next few months.

We actually agreed on most of the details of the covenant connection Christians have through Abraham and why that results in the Gentile church “bypassing” the Sinai covenant, but following a series of links from Abraham, to the New Covenant, to the “Last Supper,” to Paul’s commentary on Abraham in Galatians 3:16. The only link we Christians have through the Abrahamic covenant is stated in Genesis 12:1-3 which is the Messianic blessing on all the peoples of the earth. This was stated before the portion of the covenant requiring circumcision (which links the rest of the Abrahamic covenant directly through Isaac, through Jacob, and then to Jacob’s sons, the Patriarchs, and then the twelve tribes of Israel, and ultimately the Jewish people).

Where we disagreed was familiar territory: the duration of the Sinai covenant. Pastor believes that it should have ended at the cross with a “transitionary period” lasting until the close of the Biblical canon. My opinion is that it extends much further, well past our current age and through the Messianic Era, finally terminating at what we could consider “the end of time” as we understand it.

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. In the daytime (for there will be no night there) its gates will never be closed; and they will bring the glory and the honor of the nations into it; and nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Revelation 21:22-27 (NASB)

temple-prayersAs long as there’s a Temple in Jerusalem or the promise that it will be rebuilt (which we have in the promise of Messiah’s return), then the Torah cannot pass away from existence and neither can Israel and the Jewish people (Jeremiah 31:35-36, Matthew 5:17-19). The best one can say is that certain portions (the Laws pertaining to the Temple, the Priesthood, the Sanhedrin, and certain other ordinances regarding the Land of Israel itself) go into abeyance, a state of being temporarily set aside. When Hebrews 8:13 talks about the “Old Covenant” passing away, it describes the process of currently passing away, not having already passed away. I just happen to think that “passing away” process doesn’t end until the coming of New Jerusalem (Revelation 21:10).

We also agreed on one thing that will make a lot of Christians a little nervous. We agreed that the New Covenant isn’t yet a “done deal.” In other words, not all the work was finished “on the cross.”

“But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Jeremiah 31:33-34 (NASB)

Pastor used another term, but the way I see it, God’s finger is still in the process of writing the Law within us and on our hearts. If He had already finished it with the first coming of Messiah, we would all “Know the Lord” and we don’t yet. The moving finger has not yet “writ” and thus has yet to move on. Link the still writing finger of Jeremiah 31 with the slowly passing away of the Old Covenant in Hebrews 8:13 and I think you’ll see the Torah as it currently exists will be with us for quite some time.

We still went ’round a bit on the purpose and reason for the Law and finally agreed that how it is applied is largely situational (which I mentioned a few days ago). Pastor again tried to tell me that the Torah was given to show the Israelites that it was too hard for anyone to obey His Law and that they needed Messiah. I pointed to Deuteronomy 30, and he replied, Romans 4. I pointed out that one part of the Bible doesn’t cancel another and that only certain parts of Torah have been temporarily set aside as I mentioned above. I also referred back to Psalm 19 and Psalm 119 to illustrate that the Israelites didn’t experience Torah as a burden or a hardship but instead, their foremost joy.

Reading_TorahHe says the Torah does not provide salvation. I know that and I agree. It never did. When Israel violated the conditions of Torah they were ultimately exiled. And they were ultimately called back to God and restored to their Land. Why? Because of God’s love and grace. He never let them go. In that, we Christians are no different, though the nations are not corporately linked to God as is Israel. When we are disobedient, we are not abandoned but instead disciplined. When we become humbled and cry out, God brings us back, even as He has Israel. The Torah doesn’t save. It works as a specific set of conditions indicating the Jewish people are set aside for God, and the conditions apply to them alone on top of the obligations Torah applies to we Gentile believers.

Like I said in the quotes above, no one is righteous, no not even one. The Torah doesn’t confer righteousness, only our faith and God’s grace does that.

I don’t think he’s convinced, but I did the best I could to illuminate my end of the conversation. Part of the problem is Pastor’s perception of “Rabbinic Judaism,” but right then, I was only trying to show that during New Testament times, Torah continued to apply and the Torah moves forward across history. I didn’t want to even comment about the post-Biblical Rabbinic period until I created a bridge that started at Sinai and moved past the crucifixion, burial, resurrection, and ascendance, with the Torah moving across that bridge and forward, spanning the history of the Jewish people. Jesus didn’t just observe the Law because he was born on the “wrong side of the cross,” he did so because that’s the obligation and the joy for all Jews under covenant. His death didn’t change that.

Boaz Michael puts things is proper perspective, I think:

This may sound counterintuitive to many, but the gospel—the story of Jesus’ first coming, his earthly life, his death and resurrection—is not the fulfillment or even the climax of Israel’s story. It does not complete or resolve the narrative that begins with the call of Abraham in Genesis 12. It does not fulfill God’s promises to David in the books of the early prophets. It does not fulfill the promises of the later prophets concerning Israel’s final destiny. It does not even fulfill the Torah itself, in which God promises certain things to his people Israel after their return from exile.

The completion or resolution of Israel’s story does not and will not occur until she is redeemed from her exile, planted firmly in the land God has promised to her, and returned to a state of loving obedience to the Torah under the leadership of the Son of David, Yeshua the Messiah.

I mentioned the example of 19th century Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein who came to faith in Yeshua past the age of sixty; a person who was wholly Jewish before and after coming to Messianic faith who found that Torah was illuminated, expanded, and possessed of great joy by the Messiah. When Messiah “fulfills” the Torah, it doesn’t end, but it is shown to be truly perfect in Moshiach! Observance goes on for the Jewish believers, but it is Torah observance with much greater meaning, something that as a Gentile Christian, I can hardly even imagine.

Pastor surprised me a bit. My opinion has been that the population of Jews in Messiah dwindled more or less steadily past the Biblical period and finally extinguished completely sometime between the fourth and seventh centuries CE, and then finding a slow resurgence in the past several centuries.

Pastor contradicted me and said he believes that across the past two-thousand years, there has always been a remnant of Messianic Jews. I’d love to believe that but I need to see some evidence. He pointed me to a book called Our Jewish Friends by Louis Goldberg, which I’ll certainly have to read to see the validity of such a claim and how it could possibly be substantiated. Does Goldberg mean Jewish converts to Christianity? To me that’s not the same thing as people who live fully Jewish lives realized in Messiah. Now that would be a thrill to discover.

first-baptist-churchIn many ways, last night’s talk was one of our most productive conversations, at least for me. We won’t be able to meet again for another couple of weeks, but I’m looking forward to it. I mentioned to Pastor that the following day’s “meditation” would be called On Being a Good Christian and was based on his sermon from last Sunday. That led to my angst on ever being able to officially join a local church and the dilemma of “denominationalism” for me. We know that Paul frowned on such divisions in the church (1 Corinthians 1:10-17) but he told me (surprising me again) that we can’t anachronistically apply Paul to our modern church.

We agreed that at the heart of all disciples in Messiah, we must all contain a set of core beliefs, without which, we cannot call ourselves “Christians” (which in this case, would include “Messianics”). Beyond that, denominations provide additional dimensions based on social, cultural, and sometimes even ethnic similarities. I had a brief epiphany and said that denominations were not unlike the evolution of the different streams of ancient and modern Judaism including the addition of elements of culture and tradition. I don’t think Pastor expected that comparison and hopefully it will be food for thought in subsequent conversations.

But since I opened the door, our next conversation in two weeks will be on the differences in Christian denominations. I actually need this since my grasp on the topic is extremely weak. I don’t know if I’m learning to be a better Christian, but I hope I’m growing and learning to be a better child of God.

Blessings on my Pastor for his patience, his intelligence, his passion, and his friendship.



I’m Not Who I Was

changing-courseDo not be dismayed by the hypocrisy of others, nor by your own inconsistencies. Our lives are all journeys through hills and valleys—no person’s spiritual standing is a static affair.

But the good each person achieves is eternal, as he connects to the Source of All Good, Who is infinite and everlasting. The failures, on the other hand, are transient and superficial, fleeting shadows of clouds, as stains in a garment to be washed away.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

I’ve written over 900 blog posts for “morning meditations” and 214 for my previous blog (which stopped being active in 2011) called Searching for the Light on the Path. That’s over 1100 blog posts that record my progressive journey of faith, attempting to discover my position along the trail that leads to God.

In all that time and in all those blog posts, my opinions and beliefs have shifted a bit; perhaps more than just a bit in some areas. I’ve explored and opened myself up to some concepts and investigated and shut down others. Some people who were my friends or who were at least friendly to me have dropped me like a hot rock as I’ve developed my understanding of God, the Messiah, and the Bible in directions that oppose their belief systems. Other people have opened up to me and shared their highly valuable insights when seeing that I am not trying to impose my will on others, but seeking to discover God’s will for me and the world around me.

I suppose that last part sounds a bit narcissistic but then again, no one blogs except from their own perspective and as a means of presenting that perspective to anyone with Internet access.

I haven’t been directly accused of this, but I remember one blogger accusing another of hypocrisy based on the changing of the second blogger’s perspectives over time.

But aren’t we supposed to change? Aren’t we supposed to grow? What would happen if you learned basic arithmetic but never progressed beyond that point? What would have happened if no one anywhere across history ever developed algebra, calculus, or trigonometry? What would have happened if the best telescope we had in the world was still on the level of the one created by Galileo? What if our best medical technology for curing fevers and multiple other ailments was to apply leaches to human beings?

Are you a hypocrite if you learn something new and it changes how you see things and how you think?

As Rabbi Freeman said above, “Our lives are all journeys through hills and valleys—no person’s spiritual standing is a static affair.”

It’s interesting that a religious person should be the one to say that because, at least in Christianity, after achieving a certain level of knowledge, the expectation (this is just my opinion, of course) is that we should stay “static” with “the truth.” I’m not denying that there is Divine and eternal truth in our universe. Our universe was created by such truth. But that hardly means we know everything that there is to know about God or faith or that we even know enough. Is it enough to answer some altar call or to raise your hand in church as a profession of your faith in Jesus Christ? Is it enough to be saved?

It seems that a lot of Christian Bible studies and Sunday school classes aren’t really designed to teach people new ideas or to help people explore uncharted territory in theology, but to continue confirming what everyone already knows. Earlier today, I reviewed a television episode produced by First Fruits of Zion describing the meaning behind the name “Jesus.” However, the information presented, though very basic from my point of view, was designed to be new and even a tad bit “revolutionary” to the traditional conservative Christian audience targeted by these programs.

iam-not-a-numberIf someone who had been raised and educated spiritually in a “typical,” “ordinary” American church saw this or some other episode of FFOZ TV, they would very likely encounter what for them would be brand new information about topics they thought they knew completely.

I recently reviewed Scot McKnight’s book The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited. In the book, McKnight recounts a conversation he had with another Pastor about the meaning of the gospel. That Pastor too had stopped learning a long time ago and if he was studying at all, it was for the purpose of maintaining the pattern and level of knowledge he already possessed:

I replied, “A book about the meaning of gospel.”

“That’s easy,” he said, “justification by faith.” After hearing that quick-and-easy answer, I decided to push further, so I asked him Piper’s question: “Did Jesus preach the gospel?”

His answer made me gulp. “Nope,” he said, “Jesus couldn’t have. No one understood the gospel until Paul. No one could understand the gospel until after the cross and resurrection and Pentecost.” “Not even Jesus?” I asked.

“Nope. Not possible,” he affirmed. I wanted to add an old cheeky line I’ve often used: “Poor Jesus, born on the wrong side of the cross, didn’t get to preach the gospel.”

In my weekly conversations with my Pastor, I find myself challenged by a person who does study a great deal and who presents me with information I don’t possess which, in my case, is how traditional Christian theology, doctrine, and dogma works. For a Christian, I don’t know very much about how the formal “church” conceptualizes things. I often reference Jewish sources for my studies, both because I’m drawn to them and because they challenge my “Gentile” way of understanding God and faith. Both my Pastor and my studying help me grow, at least a little bit at a time.

We’re supposed to grow and we’re supposed to help other people grow. In the church (and in other Gentile-driven religious contexts based on the Bible), we have adopted a philosophy, not of growth, but of comfort. We want to be comfortable in what we think, feel, and believe. We don’t want to be challenged. Our day-to-day lives are challenging enough. We want to spend our Sunday services and Bible studies with people who think just like us, discussing things that we all understand in exactly the same way.

I know that sounds cynical, but it’s actually very human. All people who identify with a group that thinks, feels, and acts in a particular way relative to the larger environment want that. Christians want that, and religious Jews want that, and Hebrew Roots people want that, and progressives want that, and atheists want that, and everyone else wants that, too.

God is transcendent. He doesn’t fit in the little boxes we try to put Him in (if we are people who believe that God exists at all). Our hope, our goal, our journey should all be pointed in the direction of transcendence. We can never completely know the infinite God all in all, but we are tasked with approaching Him as closely as we can, knowing that it won’t be incredibly close.

Instead, we’ve reached an area of comfortable equilibrium and there we stay. It’s like two married people who behave more like roommates, including sleeping in separate bedrooms. It may be comfortable, but you’ll never experience passion that way.

The Rebbe would sit down with his students and say, time and time again:

The Baal Shem Tov taught that from every thing a person hears or sees in this world he must find a teaching in how Man should serve G‑d. In truth, this is the whole meaning of service of G‑d.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“All the World is My Teacher”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

icarus-seeking-lightIn Greek mythology, the wings of Icarus melted when he flew too close to the Sun and he fell, but we will freeze into complete inaction and be totally ineffectual if we stay away from the flames of wisdom and knowledge. Challenge involves risk and risk feels dangerous. Sometimes we accept a challenge and the danger and then we (seemingly) fail and fall, ending up not getting what we want. Moses accepted the challenge of leading the Jewish people through a desert for forty years at the behest of God, and in the end, he was denied entry into Israel. He failed the challenge.

Or was it a failure?

Chassidic teaching explains that this is the deeper reason why Moses was not allowed to enter the Land of Israel. If Moses would have settled us in the Land, we could never have been exiled from it. If Moses would have built the Holy Temple, it could never had been destroyed. If Moses would have established the people of Israel in their homeland as a “light unto the nations,” that light could never have been dimmed.

If Moses would have crossed the Jordan, that would have been the end: the end of the struggle, the end of history.

G-d wasn’t ready for the end yet. So He decreed that Moses remain in the desert. But He did allow him to see the Land. And because Moses saw it, and because the effect of everything Moses did is everlasting, we, too, can see it.

At all times, and under all conditions, we have the power to ascend a summit within us and see the Promised Land. No matter how distant the end-goal of creation may seem, we have the power to see its reality, to know its truth with absolute clarity and absolute conviction.

We are still in the midst of the struggle. It is a difficult, oft-times painful struggle; but it is not a blind struggle. Moses has seen to that.

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“Land and See”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe, Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

building-the-templeAll that isn’t in the Bible, but let’s go with it for now. If Moses had entered the Land, would the Messiah have come? What would have happened to the people of the nations of the world? Would we all have been drawn to the light of Israel in the days of Moses? What would that have meant? Becoming gerim, “resident aliens” and then having our descendants being assimilated and absorbed into tribal Israel? That would mean anyone outside of the original Israelites and their descendants would have had to ultimately become part of tribal Israel to become Holy unto God. But what about the rest of us?

God wasn’t ready for the end, perhaps not because of what it would have meant for Israel but because of what it would have meant for the majority of the world. All those things midrash says Moses would have done will actually be performed by Messiah, Son of David. But Israel had to suffer because Moses didn’t enter the Land and instead died in the desert. That’s a horrible realization; not comfortable at all.

We won’t come to learn the reality of our existence in a world created by God if we allow ourselves to remain in a comfortable place. Moses died, and Joshua was challenged with conquering a nation. David founded Jerusalem but the task of building the Temple was left to Solomon. Israel fell into exile on multiple occasions, her Temple destroyed, her Land lost for centuries. The Messiah came and died. Then he rose. Then he ascended. And then he didn’t come back. Human history has been spinning out of control ever since, or so it appears.

What can we do? We can stop being comfortable. “Comfortable” is not the condition of our current world. We need to read, to study, to challenge ourselves, to change as we encounter each new spark of the Divine that has been left here for us by the Source of that fire. We’re meant to grow, to develop, and to act. How else can we prepare the way for the return of the King?

The Bible Between God and Man

Moses at NeboThis week’s Torah reading begins: (Deuteronomy 1:1.) “These are the words that Moshe spoke to the entire Jewish people.”

Noting the distinction between this book and the previous four, which are all “the word of G-d,” our Sages explain (Megillah 31b.) that Moshe recited the Book of Deuteronomy “on his own initiative.”

This does not, ח׳׳ו , mean that the Book of Deuteronomy is merely a mortal invention. Our Rabbis (Tosafos, op. cit.) immediately clarify that Moshe delivered his words “inspired by the Holy Spirit.” Similarly, when the Rambam defines the category of “those who deny the Torah,” (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Teshuvah 3:8.) he includes: “a person who says that the Torah even one verse or one word does not emanate from G-d. If one would say, ‘Moshe made these statements independently,’ he is denying the Torah.”

Not a single commentator maintains that there is a difference in this regard between the Book of Deuteronomy and the four preceding books.

-Rabbi Eli Touger
“A Mortal Mouth Speaking G-d’s Word”
Adapted from Likkutei Sichos, Vol. IV, p. 1087ff; Vol. XIX, p. 9ff

Reading this commentary on last week’s Torah portion reminded me of my ongoing discussion with my Pastor about the purpose of Torah. Pastor Randy has told me his particular understanding of the function of Deuteronomy, one I’ve never heard before (and I’ll refrain from sharing that with you at this time), but it also made me think of our discussions about the “inspired” nature of the Bible.

Rabbi Touger separates Deuteronomy from the rest of the Torah by saying the first four books were recorded by Moses just as they were given to him by God, but Deuteronomy involves a “relationship” between God’s inspiration and Moshe’s personality.

For the Book of Deuteronomy are merely Moshe’s words. Moshe’s identification with G-dliness was so great that when he states: (Deuteronomy 11:13.) “I will grant the rain of your land in its season,” he speaks in the first person although the pronoun “I” clearly refers to G-d. “The Divine Presence spoke from his mouth.” (See Zohar III, p. 232a; Shmos Rabbah 3:15.)

On the other hand, it is also clear that the book involves Moshe’s own thinking process. To give an example: there is a difference of opinion among our Sages as to whether the proximity (semichus) of two subjects in the Written Torah is significant or not. (Berachos 21b; Yevamos 4a.) One opinion maintains that it is, while the other explains that although when mortals structure their thoughts, order is important, but “Since the Torah was granted by the Almighty, the order of precedence is not significant.” (Raaban [Rabbi Eleazar ben Nasan], sec. 34.)

I’m reading this as saying Deuteronomy is inspired by God so much so that sometimes Moses speaks almost with God’s voice. On the other hand, Deuteronomy involves the words and thoughts of Moses and information provided by God is organized in Moses’s mind and presented in his oratory.

We have to believe that anything coming directly from God is perfect, at least at the moment of its delivery to mankind. What we do with it on the other hand, is another story. So how does that affect the Bible? When God inspired Moses (or any of the other human Bible writers), at that instant in time, perfect information flowed from the Divine to the mundane; from God to man. Through some process we don’t understand, the relationship was developed between that information and how it was interpreted and delivered by the human beings involved.

In Deuteronomy, Moses was speaking to the entire assembly of Israel and, I suppose, either he later wrote down everything he said, or someone was taking notes while he spoke. Tradition says that Moses wrote the entire Torah by his own hand including Deuteronomy. Scholars differ in their opinions, but I’m not going to get into that right now.

Is the Bible perfect?

Well, yes and no.

The Death of the MasterWe have to believe it contains the entire inspired Word of God, otherwise, the Bible is just another book, no different from any of the other supposedly holy books in other religious or philosophical traditions. On the other hand, the Bible does contain internal inconsistencies that we can’t resolve or “smooth out,” although both Jewish and Christian translators and theologians have tried over the long centuries.

I didn’t used to believe this until I was challenged to make the different gospel versions of the crucifixion map to each other. What day of the week exactly was Jesus executed? Don’t automatically say it was Friday, because that’s not a for sure thing. You have to understand that Passover was a special shabbat and that the Saturday shabbat was also observed. I won’t go into a lengthy explanation, but if you put the different gospel versions side by side, they do not match up. You can’t tell which day it was when Jesus died. It’s not the same day in all gospel versions.

Did God goof? God can’t goof. So did the various gospel writers goof?

Well, yes and no.

Yes, if you want to read the Bible like a newspaper or a legal document (though some portions are a legal document). No, if you realize that certain portions of the Bible are written like Chasidic tales, stories based on fact, but crafted for a specific audience, drawing from other, older Biblical and extra-Biblical texts, in order to communicate a particular message to the target audience.

If you read the Bible like Joe Friday would have wanted it (“The facts ma’am, just the facts”), it doesn’t work.

The explanation of the above concepts depends on the appreciation of the relationship between the Torah and our world. Our Sages state: “The Torah preceded the world.” Here, the concept of precedence is not chronological, for time like space is a creation, relevant only after G-d brought existence into being. Rather the intent is that the Torah is on a level of spiritual truth which transcends our material frame of reference. Although the Torah “descends” and “enclothes itself” in our world, speaking of seemingly ordinary matters such as agricultural laws, codes for fair business practice, and the proper structure for marriage and family relations, this is not its essence. The essence of the Torah is “G-d’s will and His wisdom,” united with Him in perfect unity. (See Tanya, ch. 4.)

This concept has always fascinated me. Even my Pastor believes that in God’s Heavenly Court, there exists a “perfect” Bible…God’s Word as it was given to humanity unaffected by the human mind, imagination, interpretation, or anything else. By inspiring people to write various portions of His Word, God, in effect, is “clothing” the Bible in humanity so that human beings can consume it.

Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

Deuteronomy 30:11-14 (NRSV)

This is the part of Torah I point to whenever Christians say that the Law was only given to Jews so that they’d realize the Law of God was too hard to keep and that they needed Jesus instead. It’s also a good scripture to bring out when I meet with Christians. The Torah, and in fact, the Bible as a whole, is a multi-dimensional, multi-layered, intertwining, interactive document that is more than a document, that was given to human beings to enact, ponder, study, discuss, argue over, and experience in awe.

The Bible was written by human beings in supernatural partnership with God and it digs as much into the living human psyche as it does into the Divine realm.

rabbi_child_and_sefer_torahI disagree (respectfully) with Rabbi Touger when he says that human beings as intermediaries and Bible writers are either derech ma’avir or “funnels” channeling God’s words and intent without altering them at all, or derech hislabshus in which the human intermediary puts what is given from God into his own words. I think that every word written by every Biblical writer was in some sense affected, transformed, or colored by the human writers, the derech hislabshus. Otherwise, God could have just written the whole thing with his “finger” as He did with the first tablets Moses took up to Sinai, the ones Moses smashed during the incident of the Golden Calf (and notice that God had Moses do the writing on the replacement tablets).

If there is a perfect Word of God, it resides with God. It is spiritual perfection, absolute wisdom, pure joy, intelligence, and love. But how could people understand any of it if it weren’t written in a human language and filtered through a human personality, vocabulary, cultural context, individual style, and so forth?

Enclothing the Torah in mortal intellect does not merely grant man the opportunity for advancement, it also introduces a higher quality to the Torah itself, as it were. For clothing limitless spirituality in the confines of mortal intellect represents a fusion of opposites that is possible only through the influence of G-d’s essence. Because His essence transcends both finiteness and infinity, it can weld the two together, bringing the spiritual truth of the Torah within the grasp of mortals.

My personal opinion is that the esteemed Rabbi Touger might be overstating his point just a bit. I’d prefer to say that the Bible acts as a sort of bridge between Heaven and Earth, between the existence of God and the existence of people. The split instant perfection entered our world, it became imperfect, hard to interpret, difficult to understand, internally inconsistent, all because human beings were allowed to affect what God provided. But this was allowed by design, otherwise man would have no part in God or His Word.

It is said that there are two revelations of God, the first being all of creation, hence no man has an excuse for not seeking God (Romans 1:20), and the Bible, God’s written revelation. Both are complementary. The universe and everything in it provides one set of information about God and the Bible a different but complementary data set.

But if our bridge is imperfect because we are imperfect, there is yet another revelation that has and will put everything in order.

And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

John 1:14 (NRSV)

Jesus taught the Torah to his people Israel correctly and he interpreted many things, most of the time using parables. It is said in certain corners of Judaism that when Messiah comes (returns), he will teach Torah perfectly and we will all know. More than that, it will be written on our hearts so that we will all know.

No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

Jeremiah 31:34 (NRSV)

But that’s then, not now. Now we struggle, bicker, and argue about the purpose of Torah, the meaning of the Bible, how it should be interpreted, what we’re supposed to do with it, and how it’s supposed to guide our lives. As Paul said:

For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.

1 Corinthians 13:12 (NRSV)

Of course, it is both Christianity and Judaism that struggles to peer through Paul’s metaphorical “glass darkly” and to understand who we are and who God is:

Jews as a group rarely agree on matters of Jewish belief. How could we agree on the essence of another?

Rabbi Evan Moffic

aleph.jpgMoses spoke Deuteronomy to the entire assembly of Israel on the banks of the Jordan river as they were about to cross over and enter the Land. We too are on a similar journey, hearing the Word of God as filtered through human beings and waiting to “cross over,” so to speak, not with Joshua but with Messiah, into his Kingdom. This is the gospel message or the good news. Messiah will come as King and restore what was broken and lost, he will gather in his exiled children and restore Israel, Jerusalem, and the Temple. He will also gather in those among the nations who are called by his name.

But we must never forget today that God is not aloof and apart. The Word was given to man from Heaven and it is not far off. True, it’s not well comprehended, but it was meant to be understood, at least to the best of human ability, and to be lived out.

And though we only seem him dimly now, as through a darkened or dirty window, someday we’ll see him face to face.

And we will rejoice.

The Jewish Gospel, Part 2

studying-talmudBut the way Boaz teaches this lesson teaches us something about Biblical sufficiency. The idea of sufficiency is that the Bible is all that we need to understand the Bible. That’s not exactly true. While the plain meaning of the text does teach us something about Jesus and who we are as Christians, an understanding of early Jewish thought, writings, and midrash, shows us that the text contains a deeper meaning, one that would elude us if we ignored the extra-Biblical understanding of how an early Jewish audience would have comprehended these verses and associated them with other parts of the Bible. Sola scriptura isn’t quite the beginning and end of how we can understand the Word of God.

We may call the Bible “sufficient” and it is, but it can be more “complete” only when we reinsert the Jewishness of its overall context and include both Jewish perspective and Jewish midrashic thought into our understanding.

That is some of my commentary from yesterday’s morning meditation (If you haven’t done so already, please click the link and read part 1 before continuing here) based on First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) founder and director Boaz Michael’s “Moses in Matthew” presentation. The original lecture series is a couple of years old, but it was recently released on audio CD and I’ve had the opportunity to listen to this teaching. I learned a few things from this lecture and by sharing some of it, I hope you can learn a few things, too.

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:28-31 (NRSV)

It’s interesting that Matthew’s rendition of this event (Matthew 22:36-40) doesn’t include a more direct reference to the Shema. Many Christians imagine that Jesus replaced the 613 commandments of the Torah (though the Torah wouldn’t be formally codified in this manner for many centuries after the resurrection) with just two, thus substituting grace for the law. But that’s not how it would have sounded to Messiah’s original Jewish audience.

In yesterday’s blog post, I related the part of Boaz’s teaching illustrating how the Master (or any Jewish teacher in those days) could quote from just a single verse in a Psalm or other portions of the Tanakh (Old Testament), and his audience would immediately recall the full text of the part of scripture to which he was referring, connecting the teaching to the much wider body of words and imagery. When Jesus taught about the two greatest commandments and in Hebrew said, “Shema Yisrael” (Hear O Israel), the people listening wouldn’t have just thought of Deuteronomy 6:4-7, but to the rest of the content of that chapter as well as Deuteronomy 11 and Numbers 28 which also are part of the Shema. The reason the Pharisee who was an expert in the law agreed with Jesus so strongly is because he not only agreed with the interpretation of the immediate text under discussion, but the wider implications of how Jesus was presenting and teaching the Shema and Torah as good news and hope to Israel.

And again, Christians tend to miss this point, especially since we are (most likely) reading the text in English and not viewing it with a Jewish mindset. But the further importance of the Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels being presented at the same time as Boaz’s teaching is that “retro-translating” the Greek back into a “Hebrew voice,” allows for a more “Jewish” reading of this lesson, giving us a closer look at how the ancient Jewish listeners were hearing and understanding Jesus. Even reading the Gospels in Greek would still “miss” what the ancient Jews were hearing when Jesus taught.

We can see a further connection here:

Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock.

Matthew 7:24 (NRSV)

The two greatest commandments do not replace the Torah nor do they really condense the Torah. This teaching actually unpackages the meaning of the Shema and defines any Jewish person who has faith in God and who is zealous for the Torah to be both hearers and doers of the Word and will of God.

That’s a lot to pull out of a short discussion between Jesus and a legal expert.

the-teacherBut Boaz’s teaching is called “Moses in Matthew” and in referencing Matthew chapters 1 and 2, he says that it was the Apostle’s intent to mirror the birth and childhood narratives of Jesus with Moses. That may not be immediately obvious to the Christian reader, which is why lectures such as this one are so important.

I won’t go into all of the details (since my notes are limited) but making the connection requires some knowledge of Jewish midrash (Maybe books such as those written by Daube and Lachs would help) about the early life of Moses and his parents, information that isn’t available in the Bible (and Bible sufficiency proponents will likely struggle at this point). But Jesus’s audience would have been aware of some form of the midrashim connected to the early life of Moses, and when reading how Matthew wrote about the early life of Jesus, Boaz believes Matthew’s audience would be saying to themselves, “I’ve heard this story before.”

As an aside, I just read Dr. Michael L. Brown’s review of David Klinghoffer’s book Why the Jews Rejected Jesus in which Dr. Brown writes the following:

Klinghoffer fails to grasp the depth of Matthew’s hermeneutic (along with the hermeneutic of other NT authors), noting, “Pointing out the imprecision of proof texts like these, one feels almost unsporting. It’s too easy” (66). To the contrary, as top Matthew scholars have observed, “Matthew was not above scattering items in his Greek text whose deeper meaning could only be appreciated by those with a knowledge of Hebrew. Indeed, it might even be that Matthew found authorial delight in hiding ‘bonus points’ for those willing and able to look a little beneath the gospel’s surface.”3 At times it is clear that Klinghoffer simply failed to get the NT author’s point (see again 66, citing Matt 2:23 and Isa 11:1).

Boaz Michael’s perspective on Matthew’s Gospel is not in isolation. Now to continue with the main portion of my missive.

Please keep in mind that the point isn’t whether or not midrash is literally true. It probably isn’t. But the cultural context of the midrashim and what it means to a Jewish audience is what connects and binds the interpretive stories about Moses to the stories Matthew was telling about the young Jesus and his family.

Boaz went on in his teaching to compare the temptation accounts in Luke 4 and Matthew 4. They’re not the same. Matthew includes specific details that Luke leaves out, such as the Master fasting for forty days and forty nights. That specific time period (as opposed to just forty days) is mentioned only four times in the Bible, and three of those events are related to fasts (Elijah’s fast is one of them). How could Matthew’s readers not associate Jesus’s fast in the wilderness with that of Moses on the Mountain with God. It is further said in midrash that Moses dined on the bread of angels on the Mountain (somewhat contradicting that he was fasting) and in Matthew’s account of the temptation, the Adversary said that Jesus could command stones to become bread.

The order of the temptations is reversed from Luke to Matthew, with Matthew’s account presenting Jesus being taken to a high mountain and shown all the nations as the last temptation. Just before Moses’s death, God took him to a high mountain and showed him all of the nation of Israel.

(You might be thinking that these comparisons aren’t very strong, but it’s the way Matthew is writing his entire Gospel that provides the complete illustration of Messiah and Moses. The Gospels differ from each other, not because the Gospel writers were inconsistent, but because they each had a different emphasis on Messiah to present, like four different artists each painting a different portrait of Messiah. Same guy but different styles and interpretations.)

When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain…

Matthew 5:1

When Jesus had come down from the mountain, great crowds followed him…

Matthew 8:1

In between these two events, Yeshua (Jesus) delivered what has come to be called “the Sermon on the Mount.” It might surprise you to hear that Boaz believes Jesus going up the mountain and then coming back down can be compared to Moses going up to receive the Torah and coming back down. That probably sounds a little thin to you, but consider the function of the sermon itself. It’s been called the greatest distillation of the Torah. Moses ascended the mountain to receive the Torah and descended to deliver it to Israel. Jesus ascended the mountain to teach the Torah and descended when he had finished.

Also, when Moses descended, he encountered the faithless Children of Israel worshiping the Golden Calf. When Jesus descended, he encountered a leper (actually, a Jewish man with a form of “spiritual skin disease”) who through faith was made clean of his disease. There’s a “mirror effect” being created between Moses and Jesus by Matthew for his readers.

Now here’s something really interesting.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.

Matthew 5:17-18

Torah at SinaiAnyone involved in either the Messianic Jewish or Hebrew Roots groups for more than five minutes will recognize this passage as the core message of those two movements. Yes the Torah will pass away, but not until Heaven and Earth pass away. Now here’s the really cool part.

Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

Matthew 24:34-35

The words of the Torah will pass away at some point in the future, but Messiah says that his words will never pass away.

The Torah is greatly praised both in the Tanakh (Old Testament) and in the New Testament but if you study the Torah, a great deal of its content has to do with daily living in Israel, daily human living on earth. All of that will eventually fade away after a long, long period of time.

I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Revelation 21:22-27

With no temple currently existing in Jerusalem, most Christians think the Torah has already been done away with and been replaced by Christ’s grace, but I believe another temple will be built. It would be impossible to observe the laws related to the temple without the Torah being in effect for the Jewish people. We know that the Gentile nations will be required to send representatives to Jerusalem to observe Sukkot every year in the Messianic Era. Again, observing the festival requires a temple in Jerusalem and the laws of the Torah for temple worship. Jesus said the Torah will be with us as long as there are a heaven and earth. Eventually there will be no Torah and no Temple, but we aren’t there yet. But even when we get there, the words of the Lamb will remain, for they are eternal.

All the nations you have made shall come and bow down before you, O Lord, and shall glorify your name.

Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name.

Psalm 86:9, 11

I’ve said in today’s “meditation” as I’ve said many times before, that the Torah remains and functions. It remained and functioned after Christ’s ascension and in the days of James, Peter, and Paul. In order for prophesy to be fulfilled, the Torah needs to remain in force for the Jewish people until all has been completed and as long as there is a heaven and an earth.

But if you’re a Christian reading this, you’re probably wondering what that means to you. Even if you’re willing to accept the continued authority of the Torah for the Jewish people (a big “if” for many Christians), what does it have to do with a believer who isn’t Jewish?

There’s a great deal in even a surface reading of the Torah that has to do with a Christian living a holy life. All of the principles upon which we live a life of faith are from Torah; caring for the disadvantaged, feeding the hungry, comforting the widow, helping a neighbor, visiting the sick…these are all from Torah and they all apply to Christians today.

Boaz said that the heart of discipleship is to study the teachings of our Master and to apply those parts of the teachings that directly connect to us to our daily living. Remember, Jesus primarily taught to Jewish audiences who were perceiving his teachings from a Jewish worldview. Paul was the primary agent responsible for taking those Jewish teachings and crafting them in a manner “digestible” to a God-fearing Gentile audience.

The first discourse Paul gave at the synagogue in Pisidian Antioch (Acts 13:13-43) was a teaching of Jesus the Messiah as the culmination of Jewish history condensed (and most likely summarized by Luke) by the Apostle and presented to Jewish and God-fearing Gentile listeners. Their response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic.

messiah-prayerBut as time passed, the message of the good news of Messiah became increasingly “Gentilized” and eventually divorced from its Jewish context. Even those Christian scholars who can read the New Testament in the Greek can easily miss the “Hebrew voice” of the Apostles and thus lose a great deal of their intent and meaning.

Which is why teachings such as this one given by Boaz Michael are important. It’s why studying midrash and Jewish thought are exceptionally helpful in augmenting our understanding of the Bible.

The value of the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements for non-Jewish believers is to teach us the Torah and how to read it in relation to the New Testament scriptures. It’s to help us filter the Bible through the eyes of Jewish thinkers, writers, and sages. It’s to encourage us to think outside the traditional Christian “box,” not to turn us into quasi-Jewish people, but to define and illuminate the Christian relationship to the Jewish people, the chosen ones of God, and thus to Messiah himself, the first-born son of Israel.

If you are intrigued but unfamiliar with the perspectives I’ve been discussing in yesterday’s and today’s blog posts, I encourage you to go to First Fruits of Zion and see what else they have to offer. As a fellow Christian and student of the Bible, I’ve found many of their materials invaluable in my own exploration of my faith.

Who is the Jewish Jesus and how does a “Jewish” understanding of the scriptures make us better Christians? It’s a journey I hope you’ll join me on as we investigate this “undiscovered country,” including the Jewish Gospel of Matthew.

Whatever Happened to the Mixed Multitude?

Mount SinaiThe first prerequisite for receiving Torah is unity of the Jewish people. On the first day of Sivan, the Jews arrived at the mountain. The verse (Exodus 19:2) uses an unusual conjugation to describe their encampment. Rather than the plural form, here the entire camp is described in the singular. This emphasizes the need for unity at the giving of the Torah. (Rashi, Exodus 19:2)

-Rabbi Zave Rudman
“Chumash Themes #12: The Ten Commandments”

(Ex. 12:38), a class who accompanied the Israelites as they journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, the first stage of the Exodus. These were probably miscellaneous hangers-on to the Hebrews, whether Egyptians of the lower orders, or the remains of the Hyksos (see EGYPT ØT0001137; MOSES ØT0002602), as some think. The same thing happened on the return of the Jews from Babylon (Neh. 13:3), a “mixed multitude” accompanied them so far.

“Mixed multitude” definition

I don’t know what brought this to mind today, but the “mixed multitude” popped into my head. Probably because comments on several of my blog posts recently have mentioned conversion to Judaism, and that is the commonly held fate in religious Jewish opinion of this group of non-Jews who left Egypt with the Children of Israel (and possibly a similar group returned to Israel with the Hebrews at the end of the Babylonian exile).

But what happened to them? Where did they go?

I’ve been lamenting with Derek Leman lately over the loss of my “innocence” about the Bible. If scholars like Friedman are right, then the entire question may be moot because the Israelites and a group of Gentile “hangers on” may or may not have accompanied them on an exodus that may or may not be partly or completely fiction.

But setting that aside for the moment and assuming the events and people groups being described have some sort of basis in reality, I’ll go ahead and ask the question: what the heck happened to the “mixed multitude?”

The answer depends on your theology. I say that because how we interpret what the Bible is telling us is firmly rooted in what we believe about our religion.

Let’s look at Rabbi Rudman’s statement above. According to Jewish tradition, the group who accepted the Torah at Sinai were basically considered a single person; totally unified. But if that includes Hebrews and Gentiles, then their identities became fused into a single entity with no ability to differentiate. That can’t be literally true, because post-Sinai, individuals were identified as non-Jews.

Now an Israelite woman’s son, whose father was an Egyptian, went out among the people of Israel. And the Israelite woman’s son and a man of Israel fought in the camp, and the Israelite woman’s son blasphemed the Name, and cursed.

Leviticus 24:10-11 (ESV)

So national identity wasn’t obliterated after Sinai and it was recognized that the individual involved had an Israelite mother and an Egyptian father.

So were Hebrews and Gentiles fused in some other way? Midrash aside, is this even remotely likely?

Let’s take a look at some opinions:

In Exod 12:38, we read that when the Israelites left Egypt, a mixed multitude (עֵרֶב רַב) went up with them. Therefore, the question arises: Who were the mixed multitude? Interestingly, the word עֵרֶב is also attested to at the time of Nehemiah. In Neh 13:3 the term עֵרֶב is linked to Nehemiah’s reforms against intermarriages. In other texts, such as Jer 25:20; 50:37 and Ezek 30:5, the term עֵרֶב has the meaning “to take on a pledge” or “to give in pledge exchange.” In those instances, the term עֵרֶב appears in the context of war and those slain by the sword; thus, the term refers to mercenaries. A clue to the identity of the mixed multitude can also be found in Exod 13:18, where the text describes the Israelites at the time of the Exodus as חֲמֻשִׁים, a term which can have military implications. The existence of mercenaries in the ancient world is well known. They were part of David’s army and accepted as part of the Israelite nation. In this paper, we will show that the term עֵרֶב רַב in Exod 12:38 refers to mercenaries who intermarried with the Israelites and left armed with them at the time of the Exodus from Egypt.

-Shaul Bar
“Who Were The ‘Mixed Multitude’?”
Hebrew Studies (taken from the Abstract)
Vol. 49, (2008), pp. 27-39
Published by National Association of Professors in Hebrew (NAPH)
Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27913875

many peopleThat defines the “mixed multitude” as an extremely specific group of people, in this case, mercenaries. But that might not be to everyone’s taste.

In typical fulfilment of the promise in Genesis 12:3, and no doubt induced by the signs and wonders of the Lord in Egypt to seek their good among the Israelites, a great crowd of mixed people (רב ערב) attached themselves to them, whom Israel could not shake off, although they afterwards became a snare to them (Numbers 11:4). ערב: lit., a mixture, ἐπίμικτος sc., λαός (lxx), a swarm of foreigners; called אספסף in Numbers 11:4, a medley, or crowd of people of different nations. According to Deuteronomy 29:10, they seem to have occupied a very low position among the Israelites, and to have furnished the nation of God with hewers of wood and drawers of water. – On Exodus 12:29, see Exodus 12:34.

Keil and Delitzsch Bible Commentary
referencing Exodus 12:38

That expands the identity of the “mixed multitude” from a single profession but still leaves us with a low view of this group of Gentiles who, according to this interpretation, would be nothing but trouble for the Israelites and ultimately provide the tribes with a “worker class” to perform menial labor.

Barnes’ Notes for the same verse say that they were “Probably remains of the old Semitic population, whether first brought into the district by the Hyksos or not is uncertain. As natural objects of suspicion and dislike to the Egyptians who had lately become masters of the country, they would be anxious to escape, the more especially after the calamities which preceded the Exodus.” Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible tells us “Some of these were Egyptians, and some of other nations that had resided in Egypt, and who, on various accounts, might choose to go along with the children of Israel; some through intermarriages with them, being loath to part with their relations, see Leviticus 20:10, others on account of religion, being proselytes of righteousness, and others through worldly interest, the land of Egypt being by the plagues a most desolate place; and such wonders being wrought for the children of Israel, they saw they were a people that were the favourites of heaven, and judged it safest and best and most for their interest to keep with them…”

We can’t be sure who this group of people were, but most (but not all) opinions I’ve found seem to believe they were the dregs of society, refugees who had no better place to go and nothing better to do. An uncertain future with the fleeing Israelites was better than remaining in slavery and suffering in Egypt.

Was this “rabble” raised up spiritually with the Hebrews at Sinai and became one with the covenant people of God?

We read famously in Exodus 12:38 about a mixed multitude which left Egypt with Israel. This probably reflects the idea that non-Israelite peoples left Egypt with Israel (other ideas have been suggested, but I am reading it this way). Many in the Gentile Back-to-Torah movements today (Hebrew Roots, One Law, Two House) refer often to this passage as a paradigm for their own relationship to the Jewish people. The assumption is: when Torah was given there were Gentiles present, they were included within the Torah commandments as non-Israelites, and this is a parallel to Gentile in our time who are in Messiah and who thus feel they too have been commanded to keep Torah. I wish to show in this article, referring to another aspect of the Jewish halakhah (rules of practice) for conversion, that the mixed multitude cannot be used in this manner. This mixed multitude should be regarded as joining Israel (going through conversion).

-Derek Leman
“Conversion 2: The Mixed Multitude”
Messianic Jewish Musings

mountain-morningThis is really the crux of my curiosity about this group, since they are often used, in certain minority Christian circles, as the justification for “Gentile/Christian obligation to Torah.” Leman’s opinion should be obvious to those who know his work or the general opinion of Messianic Judaism (as opposed to the various Hebrew Roots groups), so I don’t think you’ll have to guess about his conclusions.

I don’t believe the mixed multitude converted as such during the days of Moses, since the Children of Israel were tribal-based and one doesn’t convert to a tribe. Even after the Babylonian exile (see Cohen), the Israelites returned to their land as clan-based groups and as yet did not have a well-defined (or defined at all) concept of conversion (Conversion is a recognized process by the time we reach the Second Temple period). The closest I think we can come is that anyone who wanted to stay with the Israelites had to live like the Israelites, but they were still not members of a tribe or later, a clan. They were a group of “gerim” who lived alongside the Israelites but who didn’t become Israelites.

Leman continues:

So, let’s consider the mixed multitude which left Egypt with Israel. What happened to them? We do not hear about their continuing existence as a group of people. They did not remain Gentiles within Israel. They became Israelites (like Caleb did). They were absorbed into the people of Israel (exactly like modern converts are absorbed into the people of Israel). And they submitted to the same covenant ceremony as the Israelites (and as converts do today).

I suppose to a degree it seems as if I’m disagreeing with Leman, since he says the “mixed multitude” did, in a sense, convert and disappear into the tribes. Yes, they disappeared, but having no tribal identity, how did they manage it? Assuming the Gentiles living among Israel intermarried with various members of the tribes, their children, and grandchildren, and later descendants would have taken on tribal identity and then the Gentiles would have vanished. Presumably if a later group of Gentiles left Babylon with the Jewish clans, they too would have intermarried (or been subsequently evicted, see Ezra 10) and then their descendants would have adopted clan identification and their history as Gentiles would have been lost to history and time.

Can we use their example, Gentiles living alongside Jews and performing the same mitzvot, as a model for Christianity and Christian obligation to Torah today? I seriously doubt it. The social and organizational conditions that required the mixed multitude to take on a status very similar to widows and orphans who had to tribal inheritance to lands in Israel no longer exists. Jews have long since ceased to be a tribal people and Judaism no longer recognizes that process as a valid method of accepting non-Jews within their community. Instead, a formal conversion process is now in place.

Also, what about Jesus?

Oh yeah, remember him?

Yes, that was a tad snarky, but to deny that Jesus gives all people among the nations a covenant relationship with God (the process is complicated and frankly, not well-defined theologically), is to deny Jesus entirely.

The story of the mixed multitude, in any meaningful theological sense, is no longer relevant. This process is one that passed away because it is no longer necessary. That’s not the same as saying that Jewish obligation to the mitzvot has passed away, nor is it a supersessionistic pronouncement. The Messianic reality of Jesus just makes the status of the ancient gerim completely anachronistic for the modern Christian, and it has been so for at least 2,000 years, and probably for a good deal longer.

moshiach-ben-yosefI know I’ve been writing a lot about all this lately, and I will continue to do so (at least for tomorrow and the next day), but in elevating the status of the ancient ger as a role model and template for the modern Christian is to say we must strip ourselves of the blood of Jesus, so to speak, and undo everything that he has done for us. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul strongly discouraged the Gentile believers from converting formally to Judaism as a means of attaining righteousness before God. It was completely unnecessary for that purpose.

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

Galatians 5:2-6 (ESV)

This is not to say that conversion to Judaism was forbidden in Paul’s eyes and it’s likely that some believers did convert. But in those days, there was no dissonance between being Jewish (born or converted) and discipleship under Yeshua (Jesus) as Messiah. Today, it’s problematic, since virtually any legitimate conversion process to Judaism requires the individual involved to renounce all other religious allegiances (specifically Christianity).

In many of my other blog posts, I say that remaining Gentile Christians and being drawn to the Torah is not a problem. We can indeed go beyond our obligations and voluntarily take on many of the mitzvot. It doesn’t make us Jews. It doesn’t make us Israelites. It makes us Christians who have solidarity with the Jewish people and who, alongside them, strive to encourage and support the return of the Jews to the Torah, to the Land, and to summon the Moshiach, may he come soon and in our days.

As for the mixed multitude…I hate to say it, but they’re old news. That dinosaurs once existed and were a necessary presence in their time and place doesn’t mean that they have relevancy in our modern world. A lot has changed since then.

Final note: This is my 700th blog post for Morning Meditations. If God is willing, they will continue for another 700 and beyond.