Last week when I took my Mom to church, the Pastor preached on the Ascension of Christ, which occurred 40 days after he rose. He surprised me by bringing in a copy of the Tanakh and describing, in elementary terms, the Torah, Nevim, and Ketuvim. He said he didn’t expect anyone in his audience to understand those terms, but then again, he didn’t anticipate me.
His sermon got me to thinking about the Counting of the Omer, and since we are in the days of Shavuot, which concludes the 50 days of the counting, I started to wonder if there was some significance in Judaism to the 40th day of that counting.
A quick Google search didn’t reveal anything very significant. Lag B’Omer occurs on the 33rd day, so no help there. While we understand, from a Messianic point of view, that Shavuot or Pentecost was the day of the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Apostles (see Acts 2), what, if anything, is significant about the 40th day of the Omer? Everything else in the Bible is so ordered, so I can’t believe the timing of the Ascension was random.
Okay, my search wasn’t completely futile, but it wasn’t conclusive either. Consider:
The first two seem to be merely daily commentaries, but the last entry said something interesting, though I don’t know how valid the information happens to be:
Since Yeshua rose from the dead on the Feast of First Fruits (Matt. 28:1-10), and ascended into heaven 40 days later (Acts 1:1-3), all of Yeshua’s post-resurrection appearances fall within the first 40 days of the Omer Count.
As I thought about the theme of each of these 40-day (or 40-year) events, I found three commonalities that all of them share:
They were times of preparation for those doing God’s work
During this timeframe the harvest was prepared – those who would receive God’s message
God’s power came forth in full strength after the 40 days
Is that the answer? Was it just another part of the 40 day pattern we often find in the Bible? It makes sense if it is, but is there any more?
I don’t know. Throwing it out to you for commentary.
I keep forgetting about Shavuot. I haven’t been counting the Omer, although in the past, I’ve made a case for non-Jewish Christians doing so.
My lack of “observance” isn’t Messianic Judaism’s fault, it’s mine.
Some time ago, someone in the MJ movement reached out to me privately asking for my participation in something. I asked a few follow-up questions, but as time passed, I never responded.
This pretty much says that if I feel any form of disconnection with my chosen religious framework, it’s because of me.
I suppose I could say “once burned, twice shy,” but that’s not true either. I’m an adult, so I don’t have to let a few bad experiences color my judgment. I’ve had a lot of other good experiences.
Truth be told, I don’t live the sort of life that lends itself to “Messianic community.”
Well, that’s only sort of true. The real truth is that I’ve reached an equilibrium point; a place of balance.
Even more to the point, I wonder how much I have left to say on the topic?
Once upon a time, I believe some people considered me to be the “Messianic Gentile” who asked the questions most other MGs were only thinking. However, maybe there are just so many of those questions lying around, and now all that’s left is to rehash and rehash the same themes, just like how Hollywood keeps remaking the same old tired TV shows and movies.
I know there is a Messianic future where all disciples of Rav Yeshua will be engaged and we will have a direction in which to follow. Then, like now, we will have a choice to make as to how involved we want to be.
Most people, without a lot of discipline and motivation, tend to settle for “lukewarm.” The Bible doesn’t say very good things about being lukewarm.
I can read the Bible and study various tomes, but that doesn’t make me an expert on anything except being me. I have no astute or elegantly intelligent opinions to offer. I occasionally find the insights of certain scholars to be enlightening, but you can read them for yourselves. You don’t need me.
Blogging, and especially religious blogging, is about community. If no one reads your stuff, you are alone. People have read my stuff here, which has been pretty terrific for the most part. However, in my opinion, the most interesting articles I’ve authored have been about community (or the lack thereof), because in the end, we may need God the most, but we need each other, too. That’s why worship is corporate and not just one guy or one gal sitting alone in a room with a Bible.
I’ve noticed a severe drop off in participation from both supporters and detractors over the long months. Part of that is because I had to restrict some people from making comments due to the level of hostility that was being expressed.
However, I think also it may be because a lot of others like me are reaching the same “tipping point” relative to their involvement in “the movement.” After crossing a particular threshold, there’s just nowhere else to go, especially if you are “unevenly yoked” like I am.
It’s sometimes said that “love is a verb.” You don’t really love unless you act upon it and “do unto others.” Faith is a verb, too. It’s not something you sit around cherishing in the abstract. If you want to have a relationship with God, you have to “do” the relationship. Otherwise it dies, or worse, it continues to exist, but gets stale, like that carton of milk in the back of your fridge you’ve been ignoring.
In the end, whether it’s you or me or somebody else, if you want to be more than lukewarm, you either have to turn the heat up or off.
I suppose that’s why a lot of we MGs have historically been upset that we don’t have a ritual system as do observant Jews. Ritual and tradition are things that we do, not just contemplate.
Unlike observant Jews, Gentiles have to get up off of their rear ends and “do” something. We have no ritual unless it’s a personal one, which is fine and dandy.
When I want to stop being lukewarm, I may not end up counting the Omer or building my small, family sukkah, but I will have to do something. The same goes for the rest of humanity. God did what He was and is going to do. The rest is up to us, at least until Messiah returns.
Torah is the life blood of the Jewish people. Our enemies have always known that when we Jews stop learning Torah, our assimilation is inevitable. Without knowledge there is no commitment. One cannot love what he does not know. A person cannot do or understand what he has never learned.
-Rabbi Kalman Packouz
“Shabbat Shalom Weekly for Shavuot” Aish.com
Of late, I have distanced myself from more formal expressions of Messianic Judaism, and so I decided to revisit the question “What should Shavuot mean to me?” I reviewed my previous comments on the matter. Things have changed even more since then.
In his commentary, Rabbi Packouz continued:
A Jew is commanded to learn Torah day and night and to teach it to his children. If a Jew wants his family to be Jewish and his children to marry other Jews, then he must integrate a Torah study program into his life and implement the teachings into his home and his being. One can tell his children anything, but only if they see their parents learning and doing mitzvot, will they inherit the love for being Jewish. Remember: a parent only owes his child three things — example, example, example.
Well, that’s for a Jew. The Torah wasn’t given to the nations at Sinai and we didn’t inherit it either at Acts 2 or Acts 15. We have, by inference, received the promise of the Holy Spirit and Acts 10 does record non-Jews receiving such a Spirit, so the Pentecost event should have some significance for us.
But there’s a disconnect between people of the nations receiving the Spirit and other of the New Covenant blessings solely by the grace and mercy of God, and the Children of Israel receiving the Torah as the conditions of the Sinai Covenant.
So we non-Jewish disciples of our Rav should be cautious as to how much of Shavuot we claim, since it doesn’t belong to us. While I enjoy reading Rabbi Packouz and the other Aish rabbis, I’m distinctly aware that they are writing solely for a Jewish audience. It’s just that they can’t block any non-Jew who happens to visit their site.
As I was reading R. Packouz, a pop-up appeared inviting me to chat with an Aish.com Rabbi. I don’t know what I’d say and I’m sure he’d be in the same bind, hence I minimized the window.
I did come across another Aish article written by Rabbi Moshe Greene called The Yiddish Speaking Latino Cop. I won’t quote from it, but I encourage you to read it, as the article describes how a non-Jewish retired police officer named Donny became so close to a great chassidic leader, that he “picked up” Yiddish, and perhaps much more.
Ultimately, the story is about encouraging Jewish unity, not the role of a non-Jew in that process. That said, it was Donny who asked Rabbi Greene a pointed question that resulted in his writing about the encounter for Shavuot.
But unlike Donny, we might not find ourselves in a unique position to have those insights and experiences that might actually cause a Rabbi to think in a new direction. However, as R. Greene mentioned (though regarding only Jews), we all can participate in the process of Tikkun Olam, or making the world a better place.
Perhaps for the Gentile, Shavuot is less about the Torah, the Sinai Covenant, the Festival, and the traditions, than it is a reminder that as possessors of the Spirit of God and in the name of our Rav, we too can do our part to make the world just a little bit better.
Rabbi Chayim Shmuelevitz used to comment on this that just as those who support Torah study financially have the merit of the Torah study of those they support, so too anyone who influences another person to study Torah shares in the merit of that person…
…Parents who influence and enable their children to study Torah have this merit, as do wives who enable their husbands to study Torah.
NOTE: It was brought to my attention that the previous incarnation of this blog post contained erroneous information. I have re-edited the text, images, and links to remove those errors.
Yes, I know this is midrash. I have an interesting relationship with midrash. I think of it as not so much literal fact or even a hidden spiritual truth, but rather as metaphor, a way to communicate something about people and their relationship to each other and to God.
As I write this, it’s Sunday morning and the first full day of Shavuot. Yesterday, my wife went to synagogue for Shabbat services and last night she returned for a study on the Book of Ruth, which is a traditional study for Jews on Shavuot. Not long from now, she’s leaving for shul again to help with the food preparations for the Shavuot gathering (all this will be over by the time you read these words).
As I mentioned a few days ago as well as on other occasions including this one, it is not only important to me as a general principle to encourage Jewish return to Torah study and observance, it’s important to me personally as a husband.
Rabbi Pliskin, citing Rabbi Shmuelevitz, commented that parents who encourage their children to study Torah, and wives who encourage their husbands to study Torah receive the merit of studying Torah themselves, even if they never actually do so in any regard.
Yes, that’s midrash. We don’t really know through Biblical exegesis (at least those of us who lack a traditional religious Jewish education) how God views these “merits,” or if they represent some objective reality. However, I prefer to take this metaphor as an encouragement.
Of course, Rabbi Pliskin is writing to a Jewish audience and is not presupposing a non-Jewish husband married to a Jewish wife, but I believe there is some merit, even if it only exists inside my heart, in me encouraging and supporting my wife in Torah study and observance, even in the smallest degree. No, it’s not that God expects or requires me to observe Torah in the manner of the Jewish people, but I do think He expects and requires all non-Jewish disciples of the Master to recognize that we only receive the blessings of the New Covenant, such as the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the promise of the resurrection, through the merit of Israel. After all, the New Covenant was made only with Israel and it is only through the mercy of God and the faithfulness of Messiah that we Gentiles can receive any of those blessings at all.
In return, what shall we do? Claim the Torah for ourselves as if we too stood at Sinai (which we didn’t)? Only the Jewish people can make that assertion. However, we can do the next best thing. We can encourage, support, and promote the Jewish return to Torah study and observance since it is the Jewish heritage and inheritance.
For nearly twenty centuries, Christianity has made a concerted effort to separate Jews from Torah, Talmud, and synagogue. Today, even the most enlightened churches continue to believe that the only way to “save” a Jew (or anyone else) is to have them exit Judaism and surrender any vestige of Torah study and observance, and instead to take on the traditions of the Gentile Christian Church.
But the Biblical record is clear that God has repeatedly urged the Jewish people, from Moses to Paul and beyond, to observe and obey His Torah, and when they don’t, the consequence is exile or worse.
Mistakenly, for the past two-thousand years, the Church has promoted and encouraged the Jewish people to disobey God, further exacerbating Jewish exile. By God’s grace, He has overridden our futile efforts to further damage the Jewish people and Judaism by re-establishing national Israel and beginning to return His people to their Land, all in preparation for the time of the Messiah and the completion of the New Covenant promises.
He has also drawn some few of we Gentiles to a greater knowledge of the Torah and specifically our esteemed and valued role as supporters of the Jewish people and their return to the mitzvot.
Hashem said to Moses, “Go to the people and sanctify them today and tomorrow, and they shall wash their clothing. Let them be prepared for the third day, for on the third day Hashem shall descend in the sight of the entire people on Mount Sinai.”
As Moses obeyed Hashem in directing the nation of Israel to be sanctified before God in preparation to receive the Torah, we Gentiles can take our cue from this lesson and, not direct, but rather clear the path for Jewish return to the Torah.
I’m in a rather unique position as a Yeshua-believing Gentile husband being married to a non-believing Jewish wife. I have a built-in opportunity to support her involvement in Jewish community and in Torah study and observance. Many of you don’t have that specific opportunity, but I believe many of you have others of which you can take advantage.
I believe that individual Christians and the Church as a whole has the opportunity to change its narrative from being anti-Torah and anti-Judaism to just the opposite. No, I’m not encouraging Gentile believers to take up the Torah as such, but they/you/we can start preaching and teaching the extreme value of Jewish Torah observance in God’s plan of global redemption. We’ve tried to take God’s gift of the Torah away from the Jewish people for untold centuries. It’s time we repented of this sin and made amends. It’s time we got out of Judaism’s way, including Messianic Judaism.
Without the Jewish Messiah King and without a Torah observant Israel, there are no blessings to radiate out to the nations. Ironically and tragically, by Christianity’s efforts to separate the Jewish people from Torah, we have been cutting ourselves off from the Savior of the World, the Church’s beloved Jesus.
According to Rabbi Yirmiyahu Ullman, it was on the festival of Sukkot each year when seventy oxen were sacrificed for the sake of the seventy nations of the world, that is, the global population of non-Jews:
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).” Further, they remarked: “If the nations of the world would have known the value of the Temple for them, they would have surrounded it with a fortress in order to protect it. For it was of greater value to them than for Israel [instead, they destroyed it]” (Bamidbar Rabba 1).
If it is true that the ancient Roman armies, in destroying the Temple, were destroying Israel’s ability to offer atonement for the Gentiles before God, how much more so has the Christian Church, in striving to separate the Jewish people from Torah, been destroying the New Covenant salvation offered to us by Messiah, by Christ?
We can change this. There’s still time. Do what I do for I believe what I’m doing is right. If nothing else, at least get out of the way of Jewish people, both those in Messiah and otherwise, in returning to the Torah. If you have Jews in your church, encourage them to light the Shabbos candles, listen to podcasts on Torah study, read fine commentaries on Torah such as those published by Rabbi Pliskin. Encourage them to become more observant as Jews.
Most importantly, if they are willing, encourage them in learning of how Jewish Torah observance and devotion to Messiah not only go hand in hand, but are absolutely necessary to fulfill and complete the redemptive plan of God for all Israel, and through Israel, the entire world. Then we Gentiles may be able to say that we have earned, however metaphorically, the merit of Torah study and observance, not by doing so ourselves, but by being part of the Messianic plan to return the Jewish people to their Torah and their Land.
I attended synagogue services on the holiday of Shavuot morning, and we spent a half-hour reading the Book of Ruth. Is there any special connection between Ruth and Shavuot?
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
The Torah and prophetic reading on Yom Tov always relate to a deeper theme of the day.
In this case, Ruth is the ancestor of King David, who was born on Shavuot, and died on Shavuot.
Another reason is because Ruth is the quintessential Jewish convert, and on the very first Shavuot – when the Torah was given at Mount Sinai – each Israelite essentially became a “Jew by Choice.” That’s why the Talmud and Code of Jewish Law use the Sinai experience as a basis for determining the requirements of all future converts:
1) Mikveh – All converts must immerse in a Mikveh (ritual bath), as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:14, 24:8).
2) Milah – Male converts must undergo circumcision, as the Israelites did before leaving Egypt (Exodus 12:48 and Joshua 5:5).
3) Mitzvot – All converts must accept to observe all 613 mitzvot of the Torah, as the Israelites did at Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:3).
Interestingly, the Torah intimates that the souls of eventual converts were also present at Sinai, as the verse says: “I am making [the covenant] both with those here today before the Lord our God, and also with those not here today.” (Deut. 29:13)
From “Ruth and Shavuot”
the Aish Ask the Rabbi column Aish.com
In my recent review of the Mark Nanos essay “The Question of Conceptualization: Qualifying Paul’s Position on Circumcision in Dialogue with Josephus’s Advisors to King Izates” as found in the book Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle (Kindle Edition), citing Nanos, I commented that the Apostle Paul was very much against the non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) converting to Judaism, frankly, because it was unnecessary. In Messiah, Gentiles have an equal communal status with the Jewish disciples, the same indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and the same promise of the resurrection.
The other major reason that Paul discouraged Gentiles from converting is that it would undermine God’s promise to Abraham that he would be the father to many nations. If we all converted to Judaism as a means of accessing a covenant relationship with God, then God’s promise that not just the Jewish people but all peoples would bow to Him, would be null and void. And as I hope you realize, it’s impossible to thwart the plans and promises of Hashem, God of Israel.
So is there any good reason for a Gentile in Messiah to convert to Judaism? There must be, because some few such converts exist (I have no statistics as to exactly how many there are or where they can be found and only personally know of one such person).
I also know that some critics of Messianic Judaism in the Hebrew Roots space believe that the practice of conversion is not presupposed in the Torah and thus is unbiblical, not to be recognized by those Gentiles who believe the Torah applies equally to all, Jew and Gentile alike.
However, as we see above, the Jewish people certainly do believe there is a precedent in the Torah that allows for ritual conversion of Gentiles, bringing them into Israel as (Jewish) children of Abraham.
Neither Christianity nor any branch of Judaism believes that Gentiles must convert to Judaism and indeed, Christianity sees converting non-believers to themselves is the desirable outcome, not becoming a member of the tribes, so to speak.
I also mentioned before that both in the late Second Temple period and today, those of us, that is, non-Jews who have some sort of connection with Judaism in general and Messianic Judaism in particular, often suffer from an identity crisis. More than once, the dissonance of who I’m supposed to be and what I’m supposed to do given my rather unique outlook on the Bible, has stirred a great desire in me to “throw in the towel” and stop associating with religious people altogether, both face-to-face and over the web.
It’s not an easy life.
Some non-Jews entering Messianic community have shot out the other end, so to speak, and converted to (usually Orthodox) Judaism as a way to end that dissonance and secure a religiously and socially acceptable identity within Judaism. To do so however, they had to surrender all fealty to Yeshua as Messiah and King, thus, from Christianity’s point of view, becoming apostates.
I believe, both in ancient and modern times, that God gave the Jewish people the ability to be “gatekeepers” into their realm. Nanos spoke of a “chronometrical gospel”, that is, a time-related good news event or set of events, a good news that entered our world heralding the advent of the New Covenant promises with the birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Master, the Messiah.
Prior to Yeshua, there was a mechanism in place whereby Gentiles who were drawn to the God of Israel could undergo a ritual allowing them to join Israel and thereafter be considered indistinguishable from the born Israelite. It was the only real option for such Gentiles, apart from the status of God-Fearers who had no covenant status relative to God (unless you count the Noahide covenant).
The process of conversion seemed to morph over time and was likely different in some manner to the process we see Ruth undergoing to convert to Judaism and become the eventual ancestor to King David and ultimately, Yeshua.
No one should question the authenticity of David’s let alone Yeshua’s Judaism because a convert was their ancestor.
But as I said before, if converting to Judaism were the only way for Gentiles to apprehend the blessings of the New Covenant (let alone Sinai), then as I said above, God’s promise to Abraham would fail.
So through Messiah, another avenue was created, one that does not require we convert and become Israel. We are permitted now to come alongside Israel, not being them but being at the same table with them, partaking in the same blessings without being responsible for the same obligations. This makes it possible for the whole world to come to God, to be blessed by God, to attain the companionship of the Holy Spirit of God, and to receive the promise of a life in the world to come, all without conversion and all while remaining fully Gentile citizens of the nations.
Being culturally Jewish, without belief in God, is compared to a cut flower. While it still retains much of its vitality, the flower has been cut off from its source of nutrition, and within a short time will wither and die. The ideals which have kept the Jewish people alive and thriving over the millennia – despite all odds – can only be transmitted with the framework that the Torah provides.
I’ve mentioned in this blog post and several others including this one, that we “Messianic Gentiles” actually have a very specific duty, that of encouraging and supporting Jews in Messiah (any Jew we may encounter, actually) to return to Torah and to more fully observe the mitzvot.
Without Jewish devotion to Torah, as the Aish Rabbi states, what God has preserved in the Jewish people will eventually fade…and without Israel, we Gentiles have no hope, because 100% of the promised blessings we receive God made with Israel, not us!
That’s why Yeshua is the King to the Jews first and only after, the King of the nations of the world. Whether the realization is comfortable or not, Israel is the gatekeeper, it guards all the doors, it holds all the keys, all through God’s covenants with Israel, and all through the person of Israel’s King, King Messiah, Son of David.
There may well be some valid reasons for Gentiles converting to Judaism, but they are all minimized within the Messianic Jewish realm simply because, as Paul pointed out repeatedly, it’s not necessary in order for a Gentile to have an authentic relationship with God. Particularly for the Gentile but also for the Jewish people, the cornerstone, the lynchpin to that relationship is Messiah. He opened the door that let the Gentiles into a full relationship with God, and he brought the very beginnings of what will someday be the completion of God’s New Covenant promises to Israel, and only through Israel, to the world.
We non-Jews should not dismiss or denigrate converts to Judaism, regardless of which branch they convert into, but we should rest assured that it is not a requirement either. This may be confusing relative to Gentile identity in Messianic community (which is why I suspect such Gentiles either covert to Judaism, return to the Gentile Church, or just give up on religion completely), but what Jews and Gentiles don’t yet understand about the non-Jew’s role and function among Israel, is well understood by God.
If I, as a non-Jew who studies within a Messianic Jewish framework, am never accepted as who I am, either by Gentiles or Jews, I can take comfort that in the privacy of my prayers and studies, I am still accepted by God. I can be a disciple and a Goy. I can be who I am. I don’t have to become someone else or pretend to possess another’s responsibilities to stand in the presence of the Almighty.
All her ways are ways of pleasantness. And her paths are peace. She is a tree to those who lay hold of her: Those who hold her fast are called blessed.
The Sinai Ethic was originally presented by Rabbi Russ Resnik, executive director of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC), during the annual First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Shavu’ot Conference at Beth Immanuel Sabbath Fellowship in Hudson, Wisconsin. Shavu’ot, the anniversary of the giving of the Torah and the pouring out of the Spirit, is a holy and deeply spiritual time that provides a reverent connection with the people of God who heard the words of the LORD spoken from the fire at Mount Sinai. These teachings, given in three sessions during the festival, focus on the moral and ethical mandates that the giving of the Torah established for the Jewish people and all nations.
-from the back cover of the CD for the audio teaching, “The Sinai Ethic”
Session One: On the Way to Sinai
I received this packet of two audio CDs containing the three sessions that make up Rabbi Resnik’s “The Sinai Ethic” presentation some time ago, but until now, I haven’t had the opportunity to listen to any of them, let alone write a review. So on a warm and pleasant Sunday afternoon, having completed the construction of my humble sukkah on my back patio, I set about to listen to the first of the three lectures.
I don’t know what I expected, but whatever it was, this wasn’t it.
Actually, it took me awhile to figure out what R. Resnik was getting to, that is, the actual topic and point of his presentation. I suppose it would have helped if I paid attention to the overall theme of this year’s FFOZ Shavuot conference, but since I didn’t attend, it really wasn’t on the forefront of my thoughts.
Rabbi Resnik started out with a familiar topic, the Shabbat. In Exodus 20, he states the commandment is to “remember the Shabbat”, but in Deuteronomy’s repeat of the Ten Commandments, it shifts to “observe the Shabbat”. Of course one must remember in order to keep and observe, or perhaps it’s the other way around. The point is that “remembering” isn’t a matter of holding an idea in your thoughts, but in re-enacting an event. It’s what Shavuot does when Jews are called up to the bema to read the Torah portions, just as the ancient Israelites went up to Mount Sinai to hear the Torah and receive it.
I want to make sure I insert this next part because it’s the cornerstone of Resnik’s talk. He quotes a Rabbi who lived sometime around 400 CE and who said (I’m paraphrasing):
All that is written in the Torah is for the sake of peace.
That’s a nice sentiment, but there is plenty recorded in the Torah that doesn’t sound very peaceful. The taking of the Land of Canaan, for example, was anything but peaceful. In fact, it was war.
Speaking of re-enacting…
Say, therefore, to the sons of Israel, ‘I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from their bondage. I will also redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great judgments. Then I will take you for My people, and I will be your God; and you shall know that I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.’
–Exodus 6:6-7 (NASB)
There are four promises in these verses that are re-enacted during the Passover seder with the four cups. God’s promises to take the children of Israel out of Egypt, free them from bondage, redeem Israel, and take them for His people as their God.
But there’s a fifth promise spoken of in verse eight:
I will bring you to the land which I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and I will give it to you for a possession; I am the Lord.’”
God will fulfill the promise He made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the promise of the Land of Canaan, and give the Israelites possession of it.
There are two important things to remember here about the Israelites and the Land:
The Promise of the Land
Possession of the Land
In Genesis 12:1-3 and again in Genesis 15:1-16, we see God making this promise to Abraham and acting out its confirmation. This promise is totally without condition. Abraham and his descendants through Isaac and Jacob don’t have to do anything at all for this promise to be given to them, the promise that their descendants will one day possess the Land. Nothing can take this promise away.
But here’s where the “Sinai Ethic” comes in:
Then in the fourth generation they will return here, for the iniquity of the Amorite is not yet complete.
The promise is unconditional, but taking possession isn’t. The Israelites couldn’t take possession on a whim. Certainly Abraham couldn’t possess any part of the Land, even though technically, he held the deed. In fact, after Sarah dies, he must buy the cave of Machpelah and the surrounding field for a hefty price in order to bury his wife.
Abraham and his descendants received the promise of the Land, but they couldn’t take possession until the iniquity of the inhabitants in current possession reached a certain threshold that triggered God’s judgment upon them.
But that’s not the only condition. In fact, the entire giving of the Torah at Sinai was not only the list of conditions the Children of Israel had to obey to hold up their end of the covenant, it was the conditions for taking possession of the Land. And while the promise isn’t conditional, taking and keeping possession is.
What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.
Resnik says the context of this verse has to do with the giving of the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles, but the underlying principle has to do with promises and possession. The fact that God made the Sinai Covenant with Israel in no way made void or invalidated the promise He made with Abraham. A subsequent covenant or event never nullifies a previous covenant or a promise of God.
(As an aside, going back to the context of the above-quoted verse, I could interpret this, based on the principle, to mean that the giving of the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles in no way undermines or reverses God’s covenant promises to Israel, either the Sinai or the New Covenant, but that’s not what Resnik was driving at, so I digress)
Resnik applied this principle to our day-to-day lives as individual believers. The world doesn’t like committed religious believers and Resnik says some of that is our fault. We have become arrogant. We say we have the promises, and forgiveness of sins, and the resurrection, and at least some of us talk and walk around like we’re “too cool for school” (my words, not Resnik’s). The technical term in religious circles is “Triumphalism.”
Yes, the promises we have received as believers are true and they are real, but we haven’t taken possession of them yet. The resurrection has yet to come, just as Abraham had the promises but did not have possession. Like him, we need to learn to walk humbly before God and man, living out our faith day by day in obedience.
“Then it shall come about when the Lord your God brings you into the land which He swore to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you, great and splendid cities which you did not build, and houses full of all good things which you did not fill, and hewn cisterns which you did not dig, vineyards and olive trees which you did not plant, and you eat and are satisfied, then watch yourself, that you do not forget the Lord who brought you from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall fear only the Lord your God; and you shall worship Him and swear by His name.”
Taking and then keeping possession of the Land required obedience to God’s commandments. When the Israelites obeyed God, they lived well in the Land. When they didn’t, the promise of the Land was still intact, but typically the Israelites went into exile and (temporarily) lost possession of the Land. In some ways, the exile isn’t really over today because Messiah hasn’t returned, many Jews still live outside Israel, and national Israel has enmity with her neighbors (and probably the rest of the world).
Which brings us back to that Rabbinic quote about peace, the Torah, and the Sinai Ethic.
Resnik quoted a modern Orthodox Jewish scholar (I tried looking up what I thought his name was on Google but got nothing). As near as I was able to write it down, in part, this Orthodox scholar said he preaches “love of the Land with a high degree of non-violence.”
The gist of this scholar’s statement and Resnik’s agreement to it is that we shouldn’t be too caught up with political and military power for holding onto the modern state of Israel, particularly when it violates peace in the region and around the world. The Jewish people should be prepared to once again lose possession of the Land for the sake of upholding peace, because we know, as the Orthodox Jewish scholar knows, that when Messiah comes (returns), the Jewish people will get back possession of the Land based on the promises anyway.
That was a lot for me to swallow, but let me continue.
It’s not through politics or armies that the promises are fulfilled, but through returning to God in deep teshuvah and being obedient in all His ways. Resnik was careful to point out that we do indeed have a part to play in all this. He’s not advocating total pacifism and immediate surrender to Israel’s enemies, he apparently just wants to put everything in its proper context in that God is the one who will ultimately cause His promises to come to pass.
Remember, Messiah is called Sar Shalom, the Prince of Peace.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…
To be “sons of God” in this case is to reflect the nature of God. Resnik explained to his listeners that Yeshua wasn’t preaching some pie-in-the-sky ideal, but how to live out practical life in that place and time. Israel was occupied by the brutal Roman empire, and yet the Master preached not only loving your neighbors, your fellow Jews, but even the harsh persecutors, those who pursue you, all for the sake of peace. Jesus wasn’t leading a revolution, even if his disciples and the common people who believed he was the Messiah wanted him to.
At the end of his first of three lectures, this is where Rabbi Resnik left us with the Sinai Ethic.
What Do I Think?
Like I said above, this was totally unexpected. I thought there would be some other focus (though I didn’t imagine what it would be) than the juxtaposition of possession of the Land of Israel by the Jewish people, and the potential for losing possession, all for the sake of the higher value of peace.
One thing I do know is that Messiah will return as a conquering King in the spirit of David, not a “meek and mild lamb”. During his first appearance as the “Word made flesh,” he didn’t put up a fight, even for his own life, but indeed, was led to the slaughter, so to speak, all for the sake of bringing atonement, not only to the Jewish people, but to the world.
That’s not how he’s going to come back.
Of course, since he’s not here yet, Resnik may have a point, but Israel has been through too many wars and won most of them against all odds (and I believe through the providence of God) for me to believe that current Jewish possession of the Land is entirely by human effort. I believe God is already playing a part, a big one, in Jewish people living in Israel today.
I’m not Jewish and I’ve never even been to Israel, but something just sticks in my throat when I even think about the Jews, under any circumstances, rolling over and giving the Land to Abbas and his cronies. “Peace” in the Arab world is something of an illusion. When the Arabs don’t have Jews to fight, they fight each other. I know that probably sounds racist, but that’s the history of the Arab peoples across the long centuries. In fact, Dennis Prager late last month, published an article which highlights my point called What the Arab World Produces.
But since “The Sinai Ethic” is made up of all three sessions, with this being just the first one, I could be jumping to a hasty conclusion. Ecclesiastes 3:8 says there’s a time for war and a time for peace. God has commanded war for the sake of His people Israel on numerous occasions. The ancient Israelites took the Land originally by force of arms at the command of Hashem, Master of Heaven’s Armies, so it’s not like the Torah only teaches peace and self-sacrifice. Yes, it does teach those things, but as a former instructor of mine once said, “Once in action, watch the timing.”
I’ll listen to and review the second of the three sessions by the by which should add some dimension to what “the Sinai Ethic” means.
"When you awake in the morning, learn something to inspire you and mediate upon it, then plunge forward full of light with which to illuminate the darkness." -Rabbi Tzvi Freeman