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Ruminations

Rumination #47: Are we to maintain "Jewish identity" and "Gentile identity" as separate and distinct in the One Body of Messiah?

There are some in Messianic Judaism who think that this is a prime directive of the Scriptures. Rightfully, they see the horrible atrocities inflicted upon the Jewish people that resulted in the theft of Israel's identity by the early Christian church. Rightfully, they are concerned about how often times, Gentiles have lead Israel astray. But regarding the need to maintain a separate and distinct identity they are wrong. There is only one identity for the believer and follower of Messiah: In Him, we are One People.

An argument is made from Acts 15, and Acts 21 that Jewish and Gentiles believers are given different standards of righteousness. Of course, this is demonstrably false, but there are some that in an effort to maintain Jewish identity in Messianic Judaism have falsely argued that the Torah is only an invitation to Gentiles, whereas to Jews it is an obligation. Arguing that the Apostles only obliged Gentile believers to some mythical "moral" code plus the four dictates of Acts 15:20; 29; 21:25 misses the entire point. Those that espouse such a theology are focused on the righteous standard at expense of the greater picture: One People in Messiah.

The fact is, there are clear and explicit instructions found within the Scriptures that tell us how Gentiles and Jews are to be identified within the People of G-d - and it isn't to be distinct and separate. Beloved, please remember this: there are no instructions either in the TaNaKh, or in the Apostolic Scriptures that tell us that we must maintain distinct "Jewish identity" and "Gentile identity." None. In fact we read of just the opposite:

One ordinance shall be for you of the assembly and for the stranger [ger, Gentile] who dwells with you, an ordinance forever throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the stranger be before HaShem.
Numbers 15:15

Therefore remember that you, once [former] Gentiles in the flesh - who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands - that at that time you were without Messiah, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without G-d in the world. But now in Messiah Yeshua you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Messiah. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances [man-made rules of distinction], so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to G-d in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.

...the mystery...that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, of the same body, and partakers of His promise in Messiah through the gospel.
Ephesians 2:11-16; 3:6

Some time ago a well-known Messianic leader and I were discussing this passage because he was insisting on a cultural distinction between Jew and Gentile. He was raised in an Orthodox Jewish home and is concerned how "Messianic Gentiles" were blurring the "cultural distinctions." Of course, he knew by my surname that my father was Scot-Irish. I asked him, what, in my mind, was a pivotal question: "Are you and I in the same family, the family of Abraham?"  I was surprised by his response. "No we aren't," he said. That is where such a faulty theology leads us: apartheid in the Body of Messiah. G-d forbid. While we may have many distinct cultures within the world-wide Body of Messiah, we have one standard of righteousness. The Torah is not "cultural," as some are purporting.

While some will come up with convoluted and contradictory theologies to explain away our One identity in Messiah, the fact is that their efforts to invite Gentiles and to obligate Jews to the Torah are a dangerous deviation from the biblical instructions we have regarding our single identity in Messiah. In Him, our identity is Israel.

Jew and Gentile, One in Messiah. We have One King, we are One People, and we have been given One Torah

Parashat Ki Tavo - 'When You Come In' (Deuteronomy 26:1- 29:8)

The title for this week's portion comes from the first line of verse 1,

v'haya ki-tavo el-ha'arets...
And it shall be, when you come into the land...
Deuteronomy 26:1

Like last week's portion title Ki Tetze [When you go out] was referring to "When you go out to war..." the contrasting "When you come in" for this week does reminds us of the mezuzah on the doorpost. The mezuzah is from Deuteronomy 6:9 which says,

You shall write them [G-d's words] on the doorposts of your house and on your gates...
Deuteronomy 6:9

The word "doorposts" is the word m'zuzot [plural for mezuzah]. This is the practice of literally placing these words in small scroll boxes on the doorframes of a home.

The mezuzah reminds the occupants to Whom they belong, and as well any visitor of the loyalties of the occupants. The mezuzah is like a sign that says, "The occupants of this home love the G-d of Abraham." Not surprisingly, this parasha has the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob set up a giant mezuzah upon entering the Land. It is found in Deuteronomy 27:2-3.

And it shall be, on the day when you cross over the Jordan to the Land which HaShem your G-d is giving you, that you shall set up for yourselves large stones, and whitewash them with lime. You shall write on them all the words of this Torah, when you have crossed over, that you may enter the Land which HaShem your G-d is giving you, 'a land flowing with milk and honey,' just as HaShem G-d of your fathers promised you.
Deuteronomy 27:2-3

This giant"mezuzah" was constructed by Joshua and all Israel on Mount Ebal, just as G-d had instructed them.

One of the results of this was immediate. Joshua 9:1-2 tells us that immediately after obeying G-d's command on Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim that it was like a red flag waved in front of the pagan nations around the Land (our obedience to G-d often will do that to others - it just makes them mad).

And it came to pass when all the kings who were on this side of the Jordan, in the hills and in the lowland and in all the coasts of the Great Sea toward Lebanon - the Hittite, the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivite, and the Jebusite - heard about it [the building of the stone reminder], that they gathered together to fight with Joshua and Israel with one accord.
Joshua 9:1-2

Sadly, a mezuzah has this effect upon some people. Even to those who say that they know the Messiah. Like we mentioned last week, in history there are quite a few people who have taught that obeying G-d's words in a literal way is a sin. How sad that all of His words are not precious to them.

However, the giant"mezuzah" on Mount Ebal was not built for the pagans. It was built for the Congregation of Israel. It was a reminder to them of G-d's words - of blessings and of curses. Which brings us back to the practice of fastening mezuzot to our door posts. It is especially tied to "going out" and "coming in." It is especially tied to "walking on the way." It is a reminder of what way we are to walk in the world. This too is a topic within this week's Scripture portion.

Today you have proclaimed HaShem to be your G-d, and that you will walk in His ways and keep His statutes, His commandments, and His judgments, and that you will obey His voice.
Deuteronomy 26:17

Acts 9:2 tells us that the early believers called themselves "The Way." Have you ever wondered why? To be "in the Way" is to be an imitator. This is what Deuteronomy 26:17 is speaking of when it tells us to, "walk in His ways." It is to imitate G-d. The first followers of Yeshua had down-to-earth exposure to this. They were His talmidim, His disciples. This was the job of the disciple - to imitate their Master. Yeshua ties love to this imitation.

You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Matthew 5:43-45

Is G-d merciful? Then we too should be merciful. Is G-d loving? Then we too should be loving. Does G-d forgive? Then we too should forgive. This is the essence of what it is to "walk in His ways."

I recently read where a well-known theologian has said that it is a dangerous "hermeneutic" to read Scripture passages relating to Yeshua and then to attempt to imitate Him. In a light-hearted way, I would first take issue with the word "hermeneutic" - which explains a lot about how many have lost their way in seminary. The etymology of the word relates to how the mythical Hermes was the interpreter to the "gods" of the pantheon. Some have borrowed more than words from the pagans around us.

No thanks. I'll stick to this simple principle: First read it as literally as possible while recognizing figures of speech. When HaShem tells us to "walk in His ways" there is no doubt He wants us to imitate Him.

Yeshua did not teach us how to "walk" in a Greek-philosophical sense as some of our seminarians want us to believe. He taught us how to live as His talmidim. He is the Master - we are to be His imitators.

Immediately, I can hear the protest from some, "But I am not Yeshua - surely He does not expect me to live like He did?" But once again,

A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher.
Luke 6:40

You have been called to do just that - imitate Yeshua.

Likewise, Peter quoted Leviticus 11:44 as his standard for imitating Yeshua said, "Be Holy..."

Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Messiah Yeshua; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, "Be holy, for I am holy."
1Peter 1:13-16

"What Would Yeshua Do?" truly is the principal question that His talmidim should ask and live by; always remembering to He would do today, what He did in Scripture.

Whenever we think of "the way" we should think of Yeshua's own words.

Yeshua said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me."
John 14:6

Beloved, here is what the mezuzah is supposed to remind us of. We are not named in the beloved because of a proclamation (or a profession). We are there by grace alone - and we display that by how we walk.

Today you have proclaimed HaShem to be your G-d, and that you will walk in His ways and keep His statutes, His commandments, and His judgments, and that you will obey His voice.
Deuteronomy 26:17

Enough talking about it. Walk it!

Oh, and by the way... remember what it means as you look at, and touch, the mezuzah on your way in and your way out.

Haftarat Ki-Tavo - 'When you come in' (Isaiah 60:1-22)

This week's haftarah is the sixth in the series of seven haftarot of consolation that are read between Tisha B'Av and Rosh Hashana. This week's portion from the Prophets is focused upon HaShem's promise to gather the outcasts of Israel from the four corners of the earth, and to bring them back into the Land.

This week's Torah portion deals with going into the Land when Moses instructed the people and Joshua in "When you come in" [Ki Tavo]. It is thus fitting to read how the Almighty will lead Israel back to her inheritance. The time has come for Israel to arise!

Kumi ori! Arise, shine!

Arise, shine; for your light has come! And the glory of HaShem is risen upon you. For behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and deep darkness the people; but HaShem will arise over you, and His glory will be seen upon you. The Gentiles shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising.
Isaiah 60:1-3

Knowing what you know, can you in your wildest imagination see the day that "the Gentiles" will come to Israel's light? Oh, Gentiles have been renowned for stealing the light from Israel over the centuries, but can you imagine them coming to Israel with "hat in hand" - seeing the Glory of HaShem over Israel, and knowing that the only way to approach that light is through Israel and her King? Sure, the centuries have demonstrated how our very Jewish Messiah was hijacked, given blond hair, blue eyes, a feminine disposition, an uncovered head, and Greek philosopher's robes... but did they come to the Messiah, Who is King of the Jews, and will always and for eternity be a Jew? He, who has joined Jew and Gentile as one to Him, must have wept at the persecution of His brothers. No, beloved, Isaiah 60 is describing something remarkably different than some Gentiles simply claiming "Jesus" as theirs, all the while using "him" as a weapon against Jews.

Notice, how the focus is on Israel returning to the Land:

Lift up your eyes all around, and see: they all gather together, they come to you; your sons shall come from afar, and your daughters shall be nursed at your side. Then you shall see and become radiant, and your heart shall swell with joy; because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you.
Isaiah 60:4-5

We have seen millions of Jews drawn back to their divinely appointed Land. And yet, it is halting progress and in the face of wicked terrorism that we see it. Isaiah 60 is speaking of something far more than we have seen.

Who are these who fly like a cloud, and like doves to their roosts? Surely the coastlands shall wait for Me; and the ships of Tarshish will come first, to bring your sons from afar, their silver and their gold with them, to the name of HaShem your G-d, and to the Holy One of Israel, because He has glorified you. "The sons of foreigners shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister to you; for in My wrath I struck you, but in My favor I have had mercy on you. Therefore your gates shall be open continually; they shall not be shut day or night, that men may bring to you the wealth of the Gentiles, and their kings in procession. For the nation and kingdom which will not serve you shall perish, and those nations shall be utterly ruined.
Isaiah 60:8-12

Imagine the countless pogroms played out in a positive reversal. Instead of looting and destroying Jewish homes and businesses, people from all over the earth flock to bless Jews. One can imagine even former Muslims who have sworn enmity toward Israel, heaping their wealth upon her. Can it be? Will it be soon, in our days?

Wait, it gets even more "impossible":

Also the sons of those who afflicted you shall come bowing to you, and all those who despised you shall fall prostrate at the soles of your feet; and they shall call you The City of HaShem, Zion of the Holy One of Israel.
Isaiah 60:14

What? Former Muslims, Catholics, Presbyterians, and Lutherans prostrated at the feet of Jews? “Impossible,” some might say. Yes, beloved, it seems the most farfetched of all. Anti-Semitism utterly reversed.

Whereas you have been forsaken and hated, so that no one went through you, I will make you an eternal excellence, a joy of many generations.
Isaiah 60:15

But the best thing of all is this: The dwelling place of the Almighty will be seen again, in His holy city.

The sun shall no longer be your light by day, nor for brightness shall the moon give light to you; but HaShem will be to you an everlasting light, and your G-d your glory. Your sun shall no longer go down, nor shall your moon withdraw itself; for HaShem will be your everlasting light, and the days of your mourning shall be ended.
Isaiah 60:19-20

Also your people shall all be righteous; they shall inherit the land forever, the branch of My planting, the work of My hands, that I may be glorified.
Isaiah 60:21

This is the verse that the Talmud (Sanhedrin 90a) draws from to declare that all Israel has a part in the World to Come.

Yes, in that day, all Israel will be saved. All Israel will be the planting of HaShem. May it be soon and in our days.

Prayer Focus for Ki Tavo - "Ingathering"

Prayed three times daily, the Shemoneh Esrei [the Amidah] is the most famous of our prayers after the Sh'ma itself. It is our constant reminder of the faithfulness of G-d, and our dependence upon His promises. One of the blessings of the Shemoneh Esrei is blessing Him as G-d Who gathers in the dispersed of His people Israel. He has promised to return the outcasts of Israel to their Land. It is our prayer that He will do this. Because it is a prayer that recounts His promises, it is a prayer that we can know with absolute certainly that He will answer. May it be soon...

The Ingathering
Sound the great shofar for our freedom, raise the banner to gather our exiles and gather us together from the four corners of the earth. Blessed are You, HaShem, Who gathers in the dispersed of His people Israel.

-- ArtScroll Translation

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Standing in Prayer with all Israel,

Rick Spurlock
Bereans Online
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B"H