“When Jacob came to Egypt, … your fathers cried out to the Lord, and the Lord sent Moses and Aaron, who brought your fathers out of Egypt and settled them in this place. But they forgot the Lord their God; so He delivered them into the hands of the Philistines, and into the hands of the king of Moab; and these made war upon them. They cried to the Lord, ‘We are guilty, for we have forsaken the Lord and worshiped the Baalim and the Ashtaroth. Oh, deliver us from our enemies and we will serve You.’ And the Lord sent Jerubbaal and Bedan and Jephthah and Samuel, and delivered you from the enemies around you; and you dwelt in security. But when you saw that Nahash king of the Ammonites was advancing against you, you said to me, ‘No, we must have a king reigning over us’ — though the Lord your God is your King.
“Well, the Lord has set a king over you! Here is the king that you have chosen, that you have asked for.
“If you will revere the Lord, worship Him, and obey Him, and will not flout the Lord’s command, if both you and the king who reigns over you will follow the Lord your God, [well and good]. But if you do not obey the Lord and you flout the Lord’s command, the hand of the Lord will strike you as it did your fathers.
–1 Samuel 12:8-15 (JPS Tanakh)
A few days ago, I was studying Torah Portion Chukat on Shabbat. After finishing with the parashah, I turned in my Chumash to the Haftarah for Chukat, or so I thought. But instead of reading Judges 11:1-33, I inadvertently turned to the Haftarah for Torah Portion Korach, last week’s reading. You’d think I would have noticed reading the same Haftarah twice in a row but somehow I didn’t. I remarked to myself how interesting it was that we see the rise of the first (human) King over Israel in the Haftarah, and the fall of her greatest prophet and leader in the Torah reading.
Moses took the rod from before the Lord, as He had commanded him. Moses and Aaron assembled the congregation in front of the rock; and he said to them, “Listen, you rebels, shall we get water for you out of this rock?” And Moses raised his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod. Out came copious water, and the community and their beasts drank.
But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, therefore you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.” Those are the Waters of Meribah—meaning that the Israelites quarrelled with the Lord—through which He affirmed His sanctity.
–Numbers 20:9-13 (JPS Tanakh)
Of course the connection I made between the two events was the result of a mistake, but it got me to thinking. Although God was to always be King of Israel, He did create a provision, should Israel “reject” Him as King, to place a human being, an Israelite, on the throne of the nation.
If, after you have entered the land that the Lord your God has assigned to you, and taken possession of it and settled in it, you decide, “I will set a king over me, as do all the nations about me,” you shall be free to set a king over yourself, one chosen by the Lord your God. Be sure to set as king over yourself one of your own people; you must not set a foreigner over you, one who is not your kinsman.
–Deuteronomy 17:14-15 (JPS Tanakh)
But think about it. If Israel had been completely obedient to God in all things, they would never have asked for a man to be set over them as King and God would always have been (and would always be) King of Israel, making it the only fully functional theocracy ever to exist.
But without Saul being set over Israel as King, there would have been no King David, King Solomon, or a dynasty of Kings of the tribe of Judah and of David’s house.
And there would be no King Messiah.
Of course, if Israel had been obedient in all things, I suppose there’d be no need for a Messiah to return the exiled Jews to their Land, to rebuild the Temple, to restore the nation, and to defeat Israel’s enemies, since Israel would never have fallen and God would have always granted her great success, and she would have truly been a light to the nations.
But then what would have happened to Christianity? The Church wouldn’t exist at all. What would have happened to the Gentiles? Without Jesus, how could we be saved?
I suppose this is where you get to say that God knew Israel would fall and fail and that the world would need a Savior, but what about free will? I mean, free will at least gave Israel a chance at succeeding. They made choices, and they certainly could have chosen to continually accept God as King.
But Christianity doesn’t believe in free will, at least the Calvinists don’t, so Calvinists would say that God programmed everything into the universe before He created it, thus mankind’s destiny was sealed before the creation of Adam and Havah (Eve) and before she ever gave birth to the first human to actually be born of woman.
But in Orthodox Judaism, free will is accepted as the norm, and that humanity has free will in no way abrogates God’s absolute sovereignty over the universe.
So in Judaism, it was quite possible that Israel could have chosen continually to have God as King and not to demand a human King.
But as I asked before, if Israel had been obedient and remained obedient in not requiring a human being to be set as King over them, we would have no line of Israelite Kings, no King of the tribe of Judah and the house of David, which the Bible says the Messiah must come from.
There would have been (and would not be) no Messiah, at least in the body of Jesus Christ as lived, died, and lived in the first century CE. So what would have happened to us, to the Gentiles, if Israel never sinned?
Probably all of those New Covenant prophesies I’ve been talking about the past couple of weeks, such as the following.
Thus says the Lord,
“Preserve justice and do righteousness,
For My salvation is about to come
And My righteousness to be revealed.
“How blessed is the man who does this,
And the son of man who takes hold of it;
Who keeps from profaning the sabbath,
And keeps his hand from doing any evil.”
Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from His people.”
Nor let the eunuch say, “Behold, I am a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord,
“To the eunuchs who keep My sabbaths,
And choose what pleases Me,
And hold fast My covenant,
To them I will give in My house and within My walls a memorial,
And a name better than that of sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name which will not be cut off.
“Also the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
To minister to Him, and to love the name of the Lord,
To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the Sabbath and holds fast My covenant;
Even those I will bring to My holy mountain
And make them joyful in My house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar; For My house will be called a house of prayer for all the peoples.” The Lord God, who gathers the dispersed of Israel, declares, “Yet others I will gather to them, to those already gathered.”
–Isaiah 56:1-8 (NASB)
“For I know their works and their thoughts; the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and see My glory. I will set a sign among them and will send survivors from them to the nations: Tarshish, Put, Lud, Meshech, Tubal and Javan, to the distant coastlands that have neither heard My fame nor seen My glory. And they will declare My glory among the nations. Then they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as a grain offering to the Lord, on horses, in chariots, in litters, on mules and on camels, to My holy mountain Jerusalem,” says the Lord, “just as the sons of Israel bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. I will also take some of them for priests and for Levites,” says the Lord.
–Isaiah 66:18-21 (NASB)
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘It will yet be that peoples will come, even the inhabitants of many cities. The inhabitants of one will go to another, saying, “Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the Lord, and to seek the Lord of hosts; I will also go.” So many peoples and mighty nations will 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 all the nations will grasp the garment of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”’”
–Zechariah 8:20-23 (NASB)
These are only a few examples of the aforementioned prophecies, but you get the idea. There’s no reason why they couldn’t have applied to the nations of the world coming alongside Israel without the existence of Messiah. We Gentiles would simply do what Israel did, worship Hashem, God of Heaven, praying directly to Him.
The present and the future era of peace would look a lot more like how my friend Gene Shlomovich describes it.
Why is this important? Why am I (seemingly) playing a useless game of “what if”? Events occurred as they occurred, not as I’m supposing them to be. Israel did ask for a man to be placed over them as King, there was a King David who created, by the blessings of God, the Davidic dynasty of Kings of the tribe of Judah, and from whom Messiah, the righteous branch, has emerged.
Thus Christianity was created, separated from Judaism at an “early age,” and took off on a totally divergent course from its original path, the Jewish path.
I’ll give you another “what if”.
Yerushalayim, Yerushalayim, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How many times I have desired to gather your sons like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were unwilling! Listen: your house will be abandoned for you, desolate. For I say to you, from now on you will not see me until you say, “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of HaShem!”
–Matthew 23:37-39 (DHE Gospels)
A few years back, a fellow I admire and respect told me that up until the moment when Yeshua (Jesus) said these words, if Israel had repented of her sins, Yeshua would have initiated the Messianic Age right then and there, leading Heavens armies to defeat the Roman occupation and fulfilling all of the New Covenant prophecies, establishing the final Davidic Kingdom in the first century.
For the longest time, I didn’t believe him. I couldn’t imagine how the coming of the Messianic Kingdom nearly two-thousand years ago would work without the Gospel message first being spread throughout the nations of the world, allowing the Gentiles to repent and be saved.
Then, when I was studying on Shabbat, it hit me. There’s nothing in the Bible, the Tanakh (Old Testament) that presupposes Messiah must come once and then come again. That’s why we don’t see a stronger picture of the Messiah in the Torah and the Prophets (although he is certainly there). That’s why it isn’t abundantly obvious to all Jewish people who study the Torah and the Prophets that Jesus is the Messiah and that the Messiah must come twice.
That’s why it isn’t spelled out in the Old Testament that we must believe in the Messiah for our salvation.
This brings disturbing notions into the light, such as the idea that history is variable and could describe any number of different courses and still fulfill the plan of God for Creation. It also means we have a great deal more to do with what happens to us, not just as individuals, but as an entire species, than we’ve been led to believe in Christian theology and doctrine.
I’ve heard it said that if all of Israel, each and every Jew, were to perfectly observe even a single Shabbat together, then the Messiah would come. Of course, I’ve also heard it said that Messiah will not come until Israel and mankind have reached the fullness of rebellion against God, but is it too much to believe that either situation could be true?
Regardless of the different roads through time I’ve suggested, the destination is the same. God will redeem His people, restore His nation Israel, and elevate Israel as sovereign over all of the other (Gentile) nations of the world. That part is a given.
This is the Torah, if a person dies in a tent…
In old age, we continue to seek wisdom and comfort in study. I fondly remember visiting Dr. Louis Finkelstein, the Seminary’s fourth chancellor, in his final years. By then he had long been confined to his apartment by Parkinson’s. Each time, I found him sitting at his dining room table with a folio volume of Talmud open before him. He often quipped that he was grateful to God for letting him go from the bottom up, rather than from the top down. And when he died in his nineties, it was mainly because his infirmities had finally severed him from the elixir of his life. I loved his ever-radiant eyes. He personified for me the conviction of the Mishnah that as students of Torah age, their minds do not unravel. A life of the mind sustains our engagement and growth.
“Torah Study — The Bedrock of Judaism,” pg 548, June 30, 2001
Commentary on Torah Portion Chukat
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries
The Sages (Brochos 63b) state that the Torah only lasts with those who die over it. This seems very puzzling since the Torah is for living, as it states (Vayikra 18:5), “And you shall live with them (the commandments).”
When doctors told Rabbi Akiva Eger that he might not live much longer if he continued his intensive study of Torah, he replied, “If I study Torah, I may not live much longer; if I discontinue my studies of Torah, I certainly will not live much longer. Doubt must not prevail against certainty!” (Jewish Leaders, p. 111)
-Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
“Always find time to study Torah,” pp 343, 344
Commentary on Torah Portion Chukat
Growth Through Torah
I think this is one of the blessings of studying the Torah (the whole Bible, really) from my current perspective: being granted the ability to see God peeking out from behind the pages, peering through the spaces between the letters, and carefully revealing little bits and pieces not only of what could have been, but what actually will be.
I’ve asked before when Jesus returns, will we go to church as a way of really asking, when Jesus returns will there even be a church?
My answer, both then and now is “no.” “The Church” as it conceives of itself, especially in Evangelicalism, will not exist because it imagines itself as an entity directly in opposition to prophesy. All New Covenant prophesies describe Israel as the center of God’s vision and purpose in the final age, not a collection of (mostly) Gentiles ruling over the world, or worse, a bunch of (mostly) Gentile “floaty ghosts” (to paraphrase D. Thomas Lancaster) playing harps in an endless worship service in Heaven.
Of all the different ways Israel could have selected to respond to God, they all have a single result. God will restore Israel and consequently, the people of the nations (i.e. Gentile Christians) will come alongside Israel in obedience to God, in response to Israel’s King Messiah, and pay homage as vassal nations to the Sovereign Lord who will sit enthroned in Jerusalem.
Selfishly, I look forward to that day, whether I see it in my mortal lifetime or in the resurrection, because I long for the days when a simple Gentile believer like me will have the opportunity to study Mishnah without it raising eyebrows (I wouldn’t even know how to go about it right now), when all of God’s servants will be able to find our lives in a “folio volume of Talmud open” before us. May that day come when King Messiah brings restoration and peace to Israel, and through his nation, peace for us all.