Tag Archives: nations

How Will We Live in the Bilateral Messianic Kingdom?

When I started writing this missive, I thought the answer had all to do with the Apostle Paul. By the time I finished, I realized I was dead wrong.

Let me explain.

This issue is compounded by two additional assumptions, based on the New Testament book of Romans – written by Paul whose authority is questionable because he never met Jesus.

-Rabbi Bentzion Kravitz
“Know How to Answer Christian Missionaries”

Articles like this make my heart ache because they are based on the assumption that everyone who has received and accepted the revelation that Rav Yeshua (Jesus) is the Messiah has an understanding of Jesus that’s exactly the same as Evangelical Christian theology and doctrine.

This is not consistent with many Messianic Jews I’ve met, either in person or over the web. In fact, most of those Jews have more in common with people like Rabbi Kravitz than they do with me.

But I’m not writing this to convince any Jewish person (or Gentile Noahide for that matter) of the validity of Yeshua’s identity and role, past, present, or future.

My current investigation has to do with a Gentile establishing and maintaining a relationship with Hashem outside traditional Christianity and Messianic Jewish community. For the former, this is the case because I’m definitely not a good fit for the Church, and for the latter, because I suspect any involvement on my part in either Christianity or the Messianic movement just drives my (non-Messianic) Jewish wife nuts.

Not that it’s her fault. That’s just the way it is. She’d probably get along famously with the above-quoted Rabbi Kravitz and eat up his responses to missionaries with a spoon.

So given my circumstances, and the circumstances of quite a number of “Judaicly aware” non-Jews who for many different reasons can’t or won’t join in a community, we turn back to the Bible and to God as our only resources.

I was trying to find a condensed list of the various directives that Paul issued to his non-Jewish disciples so I could “cut to the chase,” so to speak, but doing that search online is proving difficult. I keep encountering traditional interpretations of Paul as having done away with the Law and having replaced it with grace and so on.

I could turn to more “Messianic” or “Jewish” friendly commentaries, but many or most of them are quite scholarly and beyond my limited intellectual and educational abilities and experience.

I do point the reader to a source I’ve mentioned quite a bit of late, the Mark Nanos and Magnus Zetterholm volume Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle. This is a collection of articles written by various researchers who are part of the “new perspective on Paul” movement, those who have chosen to reject the traditional interpretation of the apostle and who have taken a fresh look at his life and writings within the context of first century Judaism.

The Jewish PaulYou get a really different opinion of Paul when you take off your Christian blinders (sorry if that sounds a tad harsh).

I did look up Paul at beliefnet.com and they do seem to state that Paul was Jewish, but unfortunately, they take a more or less traditional point of view on what the apostle taught.

They did say that of all the epistles we have recorded in the Apostolic Scriptures, scholars are sure he was actually the author of:

  • 1 Thessalonians
  • Galatians
  • 1 & 2 Corinthians
  • Philippians
  • Philemon
  • Romans

Even limiting my investigation to those letters, I’m still faced with a lot of challenges. Romans alone is worth a book, actually many books, and is so complex I doubt I’d ever do more than scratch the surface of its meaning.

But maybe I don’t have to start from scratch. After all, in the several years I’m maintained this blogspot, I’ve written many times on Paul. Maybe I don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Perhaps all I have to do is read what I’ve already written.

Searching “Paul” on my own blog renders 33 pages of search results but I need to narrow it down more to what Rav Shaul specifically said about the Gentiles.

Actually, only the first two pages contain blog posts specifically with “Paul” in the title. It gets a little more generalized after that.

The added problem is typically, any time I wrote about Paul and the Gentile, it was usually in relation to or contrasting the role of Messianic Jew and Judaicly aware Gentile. I produced very little, if anything, about Gentiles as Gentiles. After all, I’ve been a champion (minor league, of course) of the cause of Messianic Jews to be considered Jewish and operating within a Judaism, just the same as other observant Jews in various other religious Jewish streams.

Only of late have I found it necessary to advocate for the Gentiles, and more specifically, me. Only recently have I realized that while it’s a good thing to emphasize Judaism for the Messianic Jew, it has some serious drawbacks for the so-called “Messianic Gentile,” not the least of which is resulting in some non-Jewish believers losing their identity because they’re surrounded by all things Jewish, including siddurim, kippot, Torah services, and tallit gadolim.

While I still believe that a significant role of the Judaicly aware Gentile as well as the more “standard” Christian is in support of Israel and the Jewish people, just as Paul required of his Gentile disciples in ancient times, I also believe there has to be something more for us to hang onto.

Or to borrow and adapt a hashtag from recent social media outbursts, #GentileLivesMatter (by the way, using Google image search to look up “goy” or “goyishe” returns some pretty anti-Semitic graphics).

multiculturalI did find a blog post I wrote in January 2014 called The Consequences of Gentile Identity in Messiah, but I’m not sure how useful it is in my current quest, in part because I wrote:

I wrote a number of detailed reviews of the Nanos book The Mystery of Romans including this one that described a sort of mutual dependency Paul characterized between the believing Gentiles and believing and non-believing Jews in Rome.

You can go to the original blog post to click on the links I embedded into that paragraph, but if part of who we non-Jews are is mutually dependent on Jews in Messiah, that leaves me pretty much up the creek without a paddle.

Of course, that’s citing Nanos and his classic commentary The Mystery of Romans, which describes a rather particular and even unique social context, so there may be more than one way to be a Judaicly aware Gentile and relate to God.

The problem then is how to take all this “Judaic awareness” and manage to pull a Gentile identity out of it that doesn’t depend on (Messianic) Jewish community. Actually, I would think this would be as much a priority for Messianic Jews as it is for me, especially when, as I’ve said in the past, in order for Messianic Jewish community to survive let alone thrive, Messianic Jewish community must be by and for Jews.

To put it another way quoting Rabbi Kravitz’s lengthy article:

The growth of Christian support for Israel has created an illusion that we have nothing to worry about because “they are our best friends.”

It would be a mistake to think the risk has been minimized, especially to Jewish students and young adults, just because missionaries are less visible on street corners and offer much appreciated Christian support for Israel.

Granted, R. Kravitz must paint the Church in the role of adversary if he believes that Christians are dedicated to missionizing young Jews so that they’ll abandon Jewish identity and convert to Goyishe Christianity, but we non-Jews in Messianic Jewish community are also sometimes cast as a danger in said-community because our very presence requires some “watering down” of Jewish praxis and Jewish interaction.

I suspect the same was true in Paul’s day and ultimately, it was this dissonance that resulted in a rather ugly divorce between ancient Jewish and Gentile disciples of Messiah.

Gentiles resolved the conflict by inventing a new religion: Christianity, and they kicked the Jews out of their own party, so to speak, by refactoring everything Jesus and Paul wrote as anti-Torah, anti-Temple, and anti-Judaism.

That does me no good because I don’t believe all that stuff, that is, I’m not an Evangelical Christian. I need an identity that allows for my current perspective, my pro-centrality of Israel and Torah for the Jews perspective, my King Messiah is the King of Israel and will reign over all the nations from Jerusalem in Messianic Days perspective, and still lets me be me, or the “me” I will be in those days, Hashem be willing.

Think about it.

All Jewish people will live in Israel. It will once again be a totally Jewish nation. As far as I can tell, people from the nations will be able to visit as tourists, but by and large, besides a rare exception or two, we will live in our own countries, which in my case is the United States of America…a United States devoid of Jews, synagogues, tallit gadolim, and all that, because they will only exist among the Jews in Israel.

MessiahI don’t know the answer to this one, but I think this is the central question I’m approaching. How will we Gentiles live in our own nations half a world away from Israel and King Yeshua? What will our relationship be to God?

The answer to how we’ll live in the future is the answer to my current puzzle.

As I ponder what I just wrote, I realize that even searching out Paul’s perspective on the Gentiles is a mistake. He was trying to find a way for Jews and Gentiles to co-exist in Jewish community. He never succeeded as far as I can tell. No one has succeeded since then, including in the modern Messianic Jewish movement.

But in the Messianic future, as such, Jews and Gentiles really won’t be co-existing in Jewish communal space. Jewish communal space will be the nation, the physical nation of Israel. We goys will be living every place else except in Israel. Maybe the Kingdom of Heaven will be more “bilateral” than I previously imagined.

Or have I answered my own question?

The Torah for the Nations of the World


Why is Judaism so intolerant of idolatry? I don’t mean massive temples with human sacrifices. What about a civilized idolater, in the privacy of his own home. With a job, a family, a mortgage, donates to the World Hunger Fund and Greenpeace — and instead of one G-d, he just happens to have two or three or even several dozen, all lined up on the dashboard of his car. Why does Judaism make a cardinal sin of it, demanding total eradication of idolatry in every corner the world? As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, what’s so terrible?


There are many ways to answer this, but let’s take a historical perspective. Historians agree that our current standard of ethics stems from the Jewish ethic. Yes, the Greeks gave us the natural sciences, philosophy and art; the Romans gave us governmental structure and engineering; from the Persians we have poetry and astronomy; from the Chinese, paper, printing, gunpowder, acupuncture and more philosophy, and so on. But the historical fact is that all those cultures (and all the other unmentioned cultures) sustained and even glorified attitudes and behaviors that today we universally find abhorrent. Today, if you dispose of your unwanted infants, practice pederasty, set humans to kill each other for sport, ignore the rights of those lower than you on the social ladder and refuse to acknowledge any social responsibility to the poor and the unhealthy, and can’t wait to run to war against the nation next door, you are a barbarian. You may have made a wonderful citizen of Athens or Rome, but today, no club will take you.

Where did those values come from? There’s only one source historians can point to: Torah.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“What’s So Terrible About Idolatry?”
Commentary on Parshah Acharei-Kedoshim.

Sorry to be such a “Chatty Cathy” and post two missives in one day, but when I read the paragraphs above, they seemed to spell out something a lot of non-Jewish believers operating in the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots spaces have been puzzling over if not actively struggling with. Is there some sort of “universalism” to the Torah? That is, does the Torah apply to everyone and not just to the Jewish people?

The answer to that question is enormously complex, even though some people seem to believe the answer is an incredibly simple “yes.”

Toby Janicki
Toby Janicki

I’ve written on this topic at length including in my original review of Toby Janicki’s article The Gentile Believer’s Obligation to the Torah of Moses as well as my revisiting that material sometime later. I’ve also written of the Torah and Gentiles in my “in a nutshell” explanation of Torah and Christians and in Torah and the Gentile Believer. Hopefully, I’ve rendered a consistent message across those different blog posts that studying the Torah is appropriate for a non-Jewish believer for a wide variety of reasons, but stating that we share an identical obligation to observe the mitzvot with the Jewish people in a manner identical to theirs, and claiming that the Torah and being “grafted in” also makes Gentiles “Israel” is way over the top.

That’s not to say that we “Messianic Gentiles,” and arguably the mainstream Christian Church don’t have special obligations and duties. It’s just that the duty of Messianic Gentiles and Christians isn’t to observe the mitzvot but to encourage and support Jews to observe the mitzvot.

That said, I do think there is a universal aspect to the Torah, one that applies to every man, woman, and child who has lived throughout history and one that applies to all of us across the world today.

It’s spelled out in Rabbi Freeman’s answer to the question about idolatry.

We tend to think of application of Torah as an either/or sort of thing. Either it applies in exactly the same way to everyone, or it applies to no one at all. There’s no such thing in the minds of certain people as differentiation of application, or the idea that Torah is received by the Jews in one way and by the Gentiles in a different manner.

How the Torah applies to the world, even the world of people belonging to different religions or no religion at all, is in how it has shaped our world ethically and morally. American criminal and civil law, as well as many of our social mores, is based on the Torah.

This isn’t a religious application. Heck, you don’t even have to believe in God. You can be an atheist and still live in a world where the basic moral and ethical structure is based on the “blueprint” of the Torah.

Torah at SinaiRabbi Freeman in his somewhat lengthy answer says that while many peoples, nations, and civilizations have come and gone across the vast corridor of time, only the Jewish people have remained.

Why is that? For one thing, for the entire existence of the people of Israel, since Hashem gave the Torah at Sinai, the Jewish people have kept and preserved the Torah. If Israel had been wiped out by some ancient enemy and the Torah lost forever, upon what would the world have built its ethics and morals? As Freeman states, in ancient times (and maybe in modern ones), if you didn’t like the ethics of a particular “god,” you simply worshiped another one. After all, without the knowledge of a single, all-powerful, all-encompassing, creative God, morals and ethics are relative and impermanent.

The single greatest gift the Jewish people have given the world is the Torah. No, not the obligation to obey Torah on the level of the individual commandments in a way identical to the Jews, but as the broader basis of civilization. According to Freeman, what we think of as civilization wouldn’t exist without the Torah.

Today, we are witnessing the most dramatic results of Abraham’s strategy in action: Our progress in the last 500 years, to the point of the current empowerment of the consumer with technology and information, only became possible through the rise of this ethic. In a polytheistic world, this could never have occurred. It was only once the people of Europe began actually reading the Bible and discussing what it had to say to them, that the concepts of human rights, social responsibility, the value of life, and eventually the ideal of world peace took a front seat in civilization’s progress. And it is only such a world that could have developed public education and health care, old age pension, telephones, fax machines, personal computers, the Internet, environmental design and nuclear disarmament.

I’ve read other articles from Jewish sources stating that the Torah has applications for the whole world, but I never quite grasped what they meant. I guess it was because of the continuing debates we have on the web between Messianic Judaism(s) and various aspects of the Hebrew Roots movement regarding the question of how much of the mitzvot a Gentile should take upon himself or herself that blinded me to a wider perspective.

It’s about the people of the nations creating and then living in “a world that values life, world peace, individual rights, freedom of expression, literacy, knowledge and compassion for those who have less…” That’s the universal quality of the Torah. That’s the Torah for the nations.

The moral and ethical principles are identical for the Jews as they are for the rest of us. The only difference is that there are many additional instructions that only have to do with the Jewish people.

the crowdYou and I as non-Jews participate and “observe” the Torah every day, at least if we’re reasonably ethical, moral, and are law-abiding citizens. For those of us who are believers, this evidence of Torah in our lives becomes all the more apparent, but the larger reality is that untold millions of people everyday also live out the Torah just by committing acts of compassion, by sending their children to school, by obeying the highway speed laws, by upholding the rights of the disadvantaged, and in a thousand other ways.

The answer of how the Torah can be universal seems so elusive until you look at it from the perspective Rabbi Freeman brings in his online article. Once seen from that viewpoint however, everything becomes clear.

Israel and the Nations According to Isaiah: A Brief Survey

I enjoy reading large “chunks” of the Bible rather than taking in little “sound bytes” each day, because it better helps me understand the whole flow of a book in the Bible. Yesterday, I read through Isaiah. It doesn’t take as long as you might think…maybe an hour or less, and that was even with jotting down a few notes.

I know people like Derek Leman have written copious amounts about Isaiah and I will never match that level of scholarship. I’m just a guy who reads the Bible sitting on the patio in my backyard on a gorgeous southern Idaho summer morning. On the other hand, God didn’t write the Bible just for theologians and didn’t reveal His Word just to the highly educated:

At that time Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.”

Matthew 11:25 (NASB)

I’m not knocking education. I believe in learning as much as you can. I’m just saying that the rest of us aren’t locked out of the Bible because we don’t have advanced degrees in theology or divinity.

I’ll try to keep this short (yeah, right) and I won’t share everything I wrote down about reading Isaiah, but I want to illustrate something about Israel and the nations from what I believe is Isaiah’s (and thus God’s) point of view. I want to illustrate that in Messianic Days both Israel and those nations who choose to cleave to Israel’s God will be serving God. What this means for us is that we Gentile believers, we non-Jewish disciples of Jesus (Yeshua) are not and do not ever become Israel. We have our own part to play in the redemptive plan of God.

A short tour of what it says about Israel and the nations in Isaiah. Unless otherwise indicated, all scriptural quotes come from the Stone Edition Tanakh:

If [Israel] would grasp My stronghold, then he would make peace with Me; peace would he make with Me. [Days] are coming when Jacob will take root; Israel will bud and blossom and fill the face of the earth like fruit.

Isaiah 27:5-6

Admittedly this is midrash, but the sages understand “My stronghold” to be the Torah, indicating that in Messianic Days, the Jewish people are still expected to grasp the Torah tightly and to observe the mitzvot.

Chapter 40 in its entirety speaks of the end of the Jewish exile and the return of the Jewish people to their Land, to Israel.

But you, O Israel, My servant, Jacob, you whom I have chosen, offspring of Abraham who loved Me — you whom I grasp from the ends of the earth shall I summon from among all its noblemen, and to whom I shall say, ‘You are my servant’ — I have chosen you and not rejected you.

Isaiah 41:8-9

Notice the language mentioning Israel and Jacob and the offspring of Abraham. This would seem to eliminate the possibility that God is talking about Jews and Gentiles. I suppose “offspring of Abraham” could be leveraged toward the Gentiles since Abraham is supposed to be the Father to many nations (Genesis 17:5) but Jacob and Israel used together can only mean the Jewish people. No non-Jewish person in their right mind would call themselves a Son of Jacob. Even modern converts to Judaism refer to themselves as “ben Avraham” (sons of Abraham).

Fear not, My servant Jacob and Jeshurun, whom I have chosen. Just as I pour out water upon a thirsty [land] and flowing water upon the dry ground, so shall I pour out My spirit upon your offspring…

Isaiah 44:2-3

This connects to the New Covenant made with Israel and Judah and the giving of the Spirit as we see in Ezekiel 36 and Acts 2. Verse 6 in the same chapter says God is:

King of Israel and its Redeemer.

Verse 21 states:

Jacob and Israel, you are My servant.

Isaiah 45:14-17 is the “confession” of the nations and God says:

They [the nations] will prostrate themselves before you; they will pray before you, ‘Only with you [Jerusalem] is God, and there is none other, except for God’

Isaiah 45:16

JerusalemThe nations will pray to God and prostrate themselves before “you” where the “you” is Jerusalem. That hardly sounds like “mutual submissiveness” as J.K. McKee puts it in his book One Law For All.

Verse 20 states:

Gather yourselves, come and approach together, O survivors of the nations…

Then verses 22 and 23 say:

Turn to Me and be saved, all ends of the earth, for I am God and there is no other. I swear by Myself, righteousness has gone forth from My mouth, a word that will not be rescinded: that to Me shall every knee bow and every tongue swear.

And then in verse 25:

All the seed of Israel will be vindicated and will glory in Hashem.

Over and over there is a clear indication that God expects both Israel and the nations to serve Him and in the Messianic Age, He continues to distinguish between Israel and the faithful Gentile nations.

So how can we Christians become Israel?

But there’s more.

If you had hearkened to My commandments, your peace would [flow] like a river and your righteousness like waves of the sea.

Isaiah 48:18

Further indication that God continues Jewish Torah observance both in the past and I believe present into the Messianic Era. This dovetails into my belief that one of the vital roles of Gentiles in Messiah is to encourage and support Jewish repentance and return to the Torah.

He said: It is insufficient that you be a servant for Me [only] to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the ruins of Israel; I will make you a light for the nations, so that My salvation may extend to the ends of the earth.

Isaiah 49:6

This idea of “light” turns up more than once, and as far as Israel being the source of the salvation of the world:

Salvation is from the Jews.

John 4:22 (NASB)

From verse 9 to the end of chapter 49 speaks of the return from exile for the Jews, God’s remembering Israel, that Jerusalem is rebuilt and resettled, and, going into the beginning of chapter 50, how Israel is encouraged to repent.

Here’s another tie-in to the New Covenant:

Listen to Me, you who know righteousness, the nation with My Torah in its heart…

Isaiah 51:7

This is God referring to Israel, the Jewish people as “the nation with the Torah in its heart…” Yet another indication that Torah observance is connected to the righteousness of Israel, even into the days of Messiah.

At the start of chapter 52, the prophet speaks of Jerusalem and how the “uncircumcised and defiled people will no longer enter you.” Of course he could have meant uncircumcised of heart, but it doesn’t actually say that. Reminds me of the following:

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.

Revelation 22:14-15 (NASB)

MessiahDepending on your point of view, Isaiah 53 either describes the Messiah or Israel. If it’s a Jewish point of view, then it describes the wonderment of the nations at the miracle of Israel’s redemption, once again establishing that the nations exist outside of Israel and this redemption is that of the Jewish people as a nation.

The sages midrashically interpret the beginning of Isaiah 55 as “Come! Study Torah!” but it also speaks of the Davidic covenant as “an eternal covenant” which obviously references the eternal Messiah. Verse 5 says:

…a nation that had not known you will run to you…

and at least in English, “you” could either be Messiah or Israel.

Isaiah 56 is the first time in the entire sixty-six chapter book that says anything specifically about how the nations will serve God. I was wondering if the word “foreigner” in verse 3 might indicate “resident alien” and somehow distinguish between Gentile disciples of the Messiah and the rest of the nations, which could bolster the claim of some that these “foreigners” merge with national Israel, but these foreigners, also mentioned as such in verse 6, are contrasted with “the dispersed of Israel” referenced in verse 8. Actually, verse 8 says:

The word of my Lord Hashem/Elohim, Who gathers in the dispersed of Israel: I shall gather to him even more than those already gathered to him.

So we have the dispersed of Israel gathered and then we also have others who are to be gathered, most likely the aforementioned foreigners from the nations. This is not unlike the words of the Master:

I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.

John 10:16 (NASB)

Although we have one shepherd and are in one flock (ekklesia), we of the nations are not of the same fold as the Jewish sheep of Israel.

And the foreigners who join themselves to Hashem to serve Him and to love the Name of Hashem to become servants unto Him, all who guard the Sabbath against desecration, and grasp my covenant tightly…

Isaiah 56:6

This is the main indication that foreigners among Israel will also observe or at least “guard” the Sabbath (some Jewish sages draw a distinction between how Israel “keeps” and the nations “guard”), and the question then becomes, grasp what covenant tightly? Is this a reference to some of the “one law” sections of the Torah that laid out a limited requirement of observance of some of the mitzvot for resident aliens which includes Shabbat?

I won’t attempt to answer that now since I want to continue with a panoramic view of Isaiah in terms of the relationship between Israel and the nations (and since it requires a great deal more study and attention).

Nations will walk by your light and kings by the brilliance of your shine.

Isaiah 60:3

This could be seen as the nations walking either by God’s light or Israel’s, but in either case, the nations are still being differentiated from Israel. Verse 5 says:

…and the wealth of the nations will come to you [Israel].

In verse 9, God is referred to as “the Holy One of Israel,” and verse 12 states:

For the nation and kingdom that does not serve you will perish.

This indicates that there are nations that serve God and nations that don’t. Any nation not playing ball, so to speak, is utterly destroyed, which means the only nations left on Earth besides Israel, are serving God. If all Gentiles serving God became Israel, then there would be no nations to serve God, only Israel, and Isaiah’s prophecies would be false.

Referring to Israel, verse 21 says:

Your people will all be righteous; they will inherit the land forever.

This refers to Jeremiah 31 and Romans 11 where we read that God will forgive all the sins of Israel and all Israel will be saved. It also says that the Jewish people will inherit the Land of Israel forever. No other people need apply for citizenship of national Israel in the Messianic Kingdom.

Foreigners will stand and tend your flocks and the sons of the stranger will be your plowmen and your vineyard workers. And you [Jewish Israel] will be called “priests of Hashem.”

Isaiah 61:5-6

sukkot jerusalemYes, we’re all going to “make it” if we keep the faith, both the survivors among the nations and the remnant of Israel, but our relative roles seem to be very distinct, though according to Rabbinic commentary, this may more reflect the “Spiritual preeminence” of Israel.

Moving on to the end of the book, Isaiah 65:1 says that God can be found by those who are not looking for him, which means that God is ultimately accessible to all, every one of His creations. Isaiah 66:10 says we are to be “glad with Jerusalem and rejoice in her” which may also address the people of the nations rejoicing at the redemption of Jerusalem and the Jewish nation. Verse 12 again speaks of the “wealth of the nations” seemingly bankrolling this entire rebuilding effort.

In verse 19, God says he will put a sign upon some of the people of the different nations and tongues and send them to the survivors of the nations to declare His Glory.

The last words of the prophet speak of how we will worship in those days:

It shall be that at every New Moon and on every Sabbath all mankind will come to prostrate themselves before Me, says Hashem. And they will go out and see the corpses of the men who rebelled against Me, for their decay will not cease and their fire will not be extinguished, and they will lie in disgrace before all mankind.

Isaiah 66:23-24

That sounds more like a memorial and a cautionary tale than a worship service.

Over all, and this is just the short list, what I see in Isaiah is that not only do we faithful Gentiles never become Israel, but even under the best of circumstances in the Messianic kingdom, we are not at the top of the heap or anywhere near it. We serve, not only God, but Israel and the Jewish people. Yes, we guard the Sabbath, we pray and offer sacrifices in the rebuilt Temple, we come before God on each New Moon and Sabbath festival, but we are the tail and not the head.

Addendum: I had a conversation with my friend Tom about the core of this blog post yesterday afternoon over coffee and realized he had a more “one law” perspective. He believes there is a population of redeemed nations who are grafted into Israel vs. nations in general who do not cleave to God. He pointed me to Zechariah which I’ll have to follow up on at a later date. Needless to say, my learning is still in progress as I suspect it always will be.

Introduction to Messianic Judaism: The Last and Greatest King

messiah-prayerThe Messiah precedes creation, precedes the nations, precedes the election of Israel, precedes the historical reality of the Jewish people. Apart from the Messiah these other realities would not be. They are because the Messiah first is, and because the Father wills them to be through the Messiah. The Messiah who is himself the gospel is before all. When he is born in the flesh as Jesus of Nazareth, and is “apocalypsed” in Israel, he comes to “his own” people (John 1:11). Before he belongs to this people, they belong to him. Because the messianic gospel is prior to all, the apostle Paul can declare that this gospel was announced beforehand (proeuengelisato) to Abraham (Gal 3:8) and that its content — blessing to the nations and resurrection from the dead (Rom 4) — was the same in the time of Abraham as it is in the time after the Messiah’s historical arrival, for the Messiah himself is that content.

-Douglas Harink
“Chapter 26: Jewish Priority, Election, and the Gospel” (pp 273-4)
Introduction to Messianic Judaism: Its Ecclesial Context and Biblical Foundations

Like yesterday’s morning meditation, I’m not sure I’m receiving this essay in the way the author intended. For much of the past week in the comments section of my blog posts, I’ve been trying to defend the primacy of the Messiah, of Jesus, above all things. If not for the coming of Jesus and his presence both in our world and in the Court of Heaven at the Father’s right hand, we non-Jewish believers would have no relationship with God at all, and certainly no avenue to salvation and the life of the world to come. We would still be “alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace… (Ephesians 2:12-13)

In debating Messiah with my friends and associates in the Hebrew Roots movement, we have been debating the avenues by which Gentiles are brought near to God. In the ancient days of Moses, a Gentile could become a resident alien among Israel but not a tribal member. They were aliens and foreigners, with no more rights than the widow or orphan. Only by intermarrying with a tribal member and having offspring would the third generation of their union be considered “Israel.”

But then, the Gentile distinctiveness of their line would vanish, fully assimilated and absorbed into Israel.

If that was the fullness of God’s plan, then all Gentiles who desired to join in the blessings of the covenants God made with Israel would have to join with Israel in the way of the Ger and their family line as people from the nations would cease to exist. There would be no way for the people of the nations to come and worship God and remain as people from among the nations. Only Israel would have the privilege. The rest of the world would be shut out.

But that was not God’s plan.

…hear in heaven your dwelling place and do according to all for which the foreigner calls to you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that this house that I have built is called by your name.

1 Kings 8:43

…and many nations shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.

Micah 4:2

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Peoples shall yet come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one city shall go to another, saying, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord and to seek the Lord of hosts; I myself am going.’ Many peoples and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts: In those days ten men from the nations of every tongue shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’”

Zechariah 8:20-23

I know you’ve read all that before and quite recently, but it bears repeating, if only to drive the point home that God has always had a plan for the Gentile to bow to Him and worship Him without becoming a citizen of national Israel.

The problem is, in Hebrew Roots, the Torah tends to precede the dominance and Kingship of Messiah. For many in Hebrew Roots, the Torah has become so central, so important, so vital in their practice, particularly the ceremonial portions of Torah, (wearing tzitzit, laying tefillin, keeping kosher, observing Shabbos), that Messiah has become eclipsed and overshadowed.
Simchat TorahTorah is the foundation of scripture to be sure, but is it greater than the living Word? In Jewish mysticism, the Torah was at creation and was required for creation, but we know, as Dr. Harink wrote, that Messiah preceded everything and is over everything including the Torah.

The priority of the gospel — that is, the priority of the Messiah — is also declared in the New Testament in respect to Israel’s Torah. In the Gospels Jesus displays an authority over the Torah that is noticed by all those who see his deeds and hear his words. That authority is nowhere more evident than in the familiar section of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:21-48) where Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said…but I tell you…” The point here, as Jesus himself makes crystal clear, is not that his authority cancels (katalusai) the Torah and the Prophets; rather, Jesus by his own authority fulfills (plerosai) the Torah and Prophets (Matt 5:17). By his authority he authorizes their ongoing authority in Israel until “all is accomplished” (Matt 5:18), that is, until the messianic age arrives in fullness. But it is just as clear in the Gospels that the authority of the torah and the Prophets is subordinate to and dependent upon the authority of the Messiah as the Lord, and that their authority consists in their being read in the light of, and as witness to, the singular, normative messianity that is enacted by Jesus of Nazareth in his life, death, and resurrection.

-Harick, pg 274

When I was in the Hebrew Roots movement, I was taught that the Torah was the written Word while the Messiah was the living Word. They were interchangeable and basically equal to one another. The human life of Messiah was the personification of Torah in the flesh.

However, as we see from Harick, the Messiah must be in harmony with the Torah but ultimately, the Messiah must be King over all, including the Torah. We must worship Messiah, not Torah. We must bow to the King, not his scrolls.

This is not to say that the Torah becomes meaningless for Israel. Quite the contrary.

To observe Torah, then, is not primarily or essentially to “obey the rules”; it is, rather, to participate through concrete bodily practices in the very goodness and order and beauty of creation brought about by God through preexistent Wisdom and revealed to Israel in Torah.

-ibid, pg 275

We all observe Torah and participate in goodness, order, and beauty, Jew and Gentile believers alike, however, we do so in ways that illuminate and distinguish the Israel of God and the people of the nations who are called by God’s Name. Really, only a tiny fraction of the mitzvot are reserved to Israel alone. In most circumstances, Jewish and Gentile believers share equal responsibilities to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, comfort the widow, and to honor God in worship and prayer.

Woman in the darkBut above all the mitzvot is the one who is greater than the mitzvot, that is, King Messiah, Son of David. If he had not come and done a new thing in the world, we among the nations would be left out in the dark, locked out of the Kingdom, gnashing our teeth, shivering in the cold, and awaiting certain destruction.

We elevate Torah over the King at our own peril and we all should know that the Torah has never been greater than Messiah, for only faith in Messiah can save. Only the Messiah can reunify what has been separated, and only he can bring final peace in the world.

His messianic mission to the nations is for the sake of Israel; his solidarity with Israel is for the sake of the nations (Rom 11:11-12). The mystery of the gospel is messianic peace between Israel and the nations, a peace that is even now, in the single messianic “day” that reaches from the Messiah’s arrival in suffering to his arrival in glory…

…Jews and Gentiles together in the messianic theopolitical reality called the ekkesia — where Jews as Jews practice Torah, the telos of which is given in the Messiah, and Gentiles as Gentiles work out their own salvation in fear and trembling in the Messiah…

-ibid, pg 279

I suppose it’s only fitting that I end the last review at the end of the David Rudolph and Joel Willitts book with the conclusion written by Joel Willitts. We saw how David Rudolph began the book with is personal story and an exercise in wholeness, as I called it.

Willitts describes himself as an “outsider” to the Messianic Jewish movement while also maintaining close ties to this community, especially through his close friendship with David Rudolph, forged in their days as doctorate students at Cambridge.

It is because of our friendship and my continued interest in the Jewish context of the New Testament that the present book has emerged. It’s two parts neatly paralleled my relationship with David and his community on the one hand, and my passion for reading the New Testament and its message in more thoroughly Jewish ways on the other.

-Joel Willitts
“Conclusion” (pg 316)

Christians typically have no problem keeping Christ as the head of everything, the King above all Kings, and conversely subordinating the Torah way too far below where it needs to be and Israel along with it. In some ways, it’s Gentile Christians like Dr. Willitts who are the bridge between two worlds. As Messianic Judaism is the linkage between Messiah and the larger Jewish community, Gentile Christians with a passion for the “Jewish New Testament” connect that passion back into the church.

Mark is an intelligent guy without formal theological training. He is a mature Christian and intellectually curious. Mark asked me what I was writing and I mentioned this book. He had heard of Messianic Judaism before, but like most Gentile Christians he knew nothing about it. So I began to describe what the book was about. After giving Mark the big picture, he asked the million-dollar question, “So what is its significance to our church?” Mark’s “our church” is my church; it is a larger seeker-sensitive suburban Chicago upper-middle-class church full of Gentile Christians…What a great question.

-ibid, pg 317

It is a great question. It’s a terrific question.

unityAs I imagined Willitts and his friend Mark talking about “Introduction to Messianic Judaism” at their church and discussing what it all means to their church, I thought back to my weekly conversations with Pastor Randy in his office and the significance of those talks to our church. I also thought back to Boaz Michael’s book Tent of David, and I saw that the latter part of the Rudolph/Willitts book (part 1, Chapters 1-12, was written largely by Jewish authors and Part 2, chapters 13 through the end, was written by mostly Christian scholars) and the focus of Michael’s TOD book were virtually the same.

“So what is its significance to our church?”

I don’t want to simply replicate all of the answers Willitts provides, but as you might imagine, the purpose of Introduction for Christians is to do what it has done for me. It informs its Christian audience of what Messianic Judaism looks like on the inside, letting us hear the voices of Messianic Jews tell their story and how they understand the Bible.

It also opens the doorway to a post-supersessionist church, a topic near and dear to my heart, whereby Christians can see and enter into a world of believing Jews and Gentiles who work together, worship together, and love God together, without either side having to surrender the specialness and unique calling God has provided for each branch within the ekklesia of Messiah.

Willitts also discusses the reimaging of church planting and missions using an Israel-centered interpretation of the New Testament, reminds Gentile Christians that we are the branch, not the root, and makes us aware of our responsibilities to the individual and communal requirements of the needy, the poor, the sick and injured among Messiah’s people Israel, and particularly among those who are disciples of Christ.

Willitts ends the book with his personal translation of Galatians 6:16:

Peace on them, and mercy also on the Israel of God.

I hope this series of reviews of David Rudolph’s and Joel Willitts’ book “Introduction to Messianic Judaism” has spoken to you on some level, whether you are Jewish or Gentile. I hope that you can see their intent was to build a bridge between our different worlds. For nearly two thousand years, the Jewish people and Gentile Christianity have traced divergent trajectories across the plane of human history, but God has always planned to bring all people to Him through Messiah Yeshua, Christ Jesus.

This can and will be done without requiring the Jewish people to surrender their Torah, their Talmud, their lifestyles and their shalom as Jews. This can and will be done without requiring all of the people from all of the other nations of the earth to acquire a lifestyle, a culture, a language that is Jewish, without converting to Judaism, and without being told that not being Jewish and not living the lifestyle and observing the mitzvot of the Jewish people somehow makes them…makes us second-class citizens in the Kingdom of God and in the world to come.

We can all be exactly who God created us to be and we can all be delighted that God made us the way He did. The Jewish person is no more loved by God than the Gentile Christian and the Gentile Christian is no more loved by God than the Jewish person. We are all one in Messiah, two unique streams of people within a single Messianic body, bringing infinite diversity in infinite combinations to the “feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 8:11) with the King of Israel as the King over all.

Deeper than the wisdom to create is the wisdom to repair. And so, G‑d built failure into His world, so that He could give Man His deepest wisdom: The wisdom to repair.

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


149 days.

The Elusive Unchanging Dove

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Say to the Israelite people: On the fifteenth day of this seventh month there shall be the Feast of Booths to the Lord, [to last] seven days. The first day shall be a sacred occasion: you shall not work at your occupations; seven days you shall bring offerings by fire to the Lord. On the eighth day you shall observe a sacred occasion and bring an offering by fire to the Lord; it is a solemn gathering: you shall not work at your occupations.

Those are the set times of the Lord that you shall celebrate as sacred occasions, bringing offerings by fire to the Lord — burnt offerings, meal offerings, sacrifices, and libations, on each day what is proper to it — apart from the sabbaths of the Lord, and apart from your gifts and from all your votive offerings and from all your freewill offerings that you give to the Lord.

Mark, on the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when you have gathered in the yield of your land, you shall observe the festival of the Lord [to last] seven days: a complete rest on the first day, and a complete rest on the eighth day. On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days. You shall observe it as a festival of the Lord for seven days in the year; you shall observe it in the seventh month as a law for all time, throughout the ages. You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I the Lord your God.

So Moses declared to the Israelites the set times of the Lord.

Leviticus 23:33-44 (JPS Tanakh)

The Midrash teaches: “Just as a dove (yonah) is simple and accepts authority, the Jewish people accept God’s authority by ascending to Yerushalayim during the holiday. Just as a yonah is distinguished to its partner, who can tell it apart from other birds, Klal Yisrael are separated from the non-Jews by how they cut their hair, their fulfillment of milah and their care to wear tzitzis. The Jews comport themselves with modesty, like doves…Just as doves atone, Yisrael atones for the nations when they bring the sacrificial bulls for them during Sukkos.

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“The Dove”
Kinnim 23

Wait a minute. Besides the part where it said “Klal Yisrael are separated from the non-Jews,” what did that say?

Just as doves atone, Yisrael atones for the nations when they bring the sacrificial bulls for them during Sukkos.

Yes, that’s what I thought it said.

I was reading this passage this morning (as I write this) and tried to recall exactly where in the Bible it says that the sacrifices of Sukkot were intended to atone for the nations of the earth. Naturally, my middle-aged memory being what it is, I couldn’t pull up the data, so I turned to my favorite research tool: Google. Turns out that the plain meaning of the text in the Torah regarding the Sukkot sacrifices doesn’t talk about atonement for the nations. But there’s always this:

These seventy oxen correspond to the original seventy nations of the world enumerated in the Torah who descended from the sons of Noah, and are the ancestors of all of the nations till this day. Israel brought these sacrifices as atonement for the nations of the world, and in prayer for their well-being; as well as for universal peace and harmony between them.

Thus our Sages taught, “You find that during the Festival [Succot], Israel offers seventy oxen for the seventy nations. Israel says: Master of the Universe, behold we offer You seventy oxen in their behalf, and they should have loved us. Instead, in the place of my love, they hate me (Psalms 109).”

G-d appointed Israel a kingdom of priests to atone for all these nations, and appointed Jerusalem a house of prayer for all the peoples…

We pray for the day when Israel will be fully restored to its land, rebuild the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, and bring peace between G-d and man, and between all peoples. Amen.

-Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman
“The Significance of Succot Sacrifices”
15 October 2005/12 Tishri 5766
Ohr Somayach International

Here’s another look at the same picture:

The Talmud (BT Sukkah 55:B) teaches that the seventy bulls that were offered in the Holy Temple served as atonement for the seventy nations of the world. Truly, as the rabbis observed, “if the nations of the world had only known how much they needed the Temple, they would have surrounded it with armed fortresses to protect it” (Bamidbar Rabbah 1, 3).

-quoted from The Temple Institute website.

The irony involved in this commentary is that even though the nations hate Israel and destroyed her Holy Temple, still the Jewish people continue to pray for the peace and redemption of the nations.

Actually, we do find the number of bulls that are sacrificed during Sukkot is 70 in Numbers 29 starting at verse 12. There’s also another connection between the nations, Israel and celebration of the feast of Sukkot found in the books of the Prophets:

Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths. And if any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, there will be no rain on them. And if the family of Egypt does not go up and present themselves, then on them there shall be no rain; there shall be the plague with which the Lord afflicts the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths. This shall be the punishment to Egypt and the punishment to all the nations that do not go up to keep the Feast of Booths.

And on that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, “Holy to the Lord.” And the pots in the house of the Lord shall be as the bowls before the altar. And every pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be holy to the Lord of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and take of them and boil the meat of the sacrifice in them. And there shall no longer be a trader in the house of the Lord of hosts on that day. –Zechariah 14:16-21 (ESV)

Sukkot is the only festival of the Jews when representatives of the nations of the world will be actually commanded to appear in Jerusalem to celebrate and, as you see, God desires this so much, that there will actually be penalties for nations refusing to be represented at this event in the days of the Messiah.

The Hebrew4Christians site adds a little more information to confirm this:

Prophetically, Sukkot anticipates the coming kingdom of Yeshua the Messiah wherein all the nations shall come up to Jerusalem to worship the LORD during the festival.

But that’s all in the future. What about now and especially, what about in ancient times? Has Israel been atoning for us all along and have we disastrously ended our own atonement before God by destroying the Temple and scattering the Jewish people throughout the earth?

I don’t know, but pondering all these thoughts did bring the following to mind:

You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.” Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you am he.” –John 4:22-26 (ESV)

I’m not necessarily drawing a direct connection between all of these points, but they are rather compelling. Consider this. In ancient times, during the Sukkot festival, it is thought that the Israelites sacrificed 70 bulls for the atonement of the nations of the world. In the Messianic Age to come, the nations are commanded to come up to Jerusalem to celebrate Sukkot with Israel. And in his Sukkot commentary, Rabbi Ullman alludes to not only Zechariah 14 but this other prophetic word:

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant—these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” –Isaiah 56:6-7 (ESV)

Salvation for the nations comes from the Jews. It seems like our atonement in ancient days came from Israel and for those of us who are Christians, it continues to come from Israel even though the Temple in Jerusalem currently does not exist.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. –John 3:16-17 (ESV)

We from the nations cannot escape the great gift that Israel has continued to bestow upon us from days of old until this very time. God made Israel a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6) and that light has been allowed be spread from Israel and the Torah to the rest of us (Isaiah 2:2-4) so that we too can illuminate the world with that light (Matthew 5:14). But this is only possible because God sent the Jewish Messiah and King, our Master, to all of us. And this is only possible because the Messiah and Savior was as obedient as a dove (Matthew 3:16) and as silent as a lamb led to the slaughter (Jeremiah 11:19).

The Christian church hasn’t replaced Israel and we certainly haven’t merged into her so that Israel has ceased to be a people before her God. We among the nations are Israel’s beneficiaries. May we continue to bless the heart of Zion and her first born son, Jesus Christ, our Savior, King of the Jews.

That which can be grasped will change. That which does not change cannot be grasped.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Grasping Change”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson

Without mentioning it specifically, the Zohar sees great significance in the fact that the dove (and turtledove) is the only kind of bird permitted for sacrifice. In this way, the mysterious legendary dove with an olive leaf in its mouth becomes a representation of King Messiah…

-Tsvi Sadan
Yonah – Dove, pg 113
The Concealed Light: Names of Messiah in Jewish Sources

He is the elusive, unchanging dove.