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Rumination #4: Is Messiah Divine?

People who come from a conservative Christian background will immediately (and maybe a little too easily) respond, "Of course!" Normative Judaism of course will respond as quickly, "Impossible!" Those of us in Messianic Judaism face this question far more than our brothers and sisters in the church. Why is that?

The concept of a divine Messiah was not a difficulty in the time before the First Century CE. When the church and Judaism split in the Second Century, the overwhelming agreement between them was overshadowed by two great disagreements:

Today, most on both sides of the fence assume that these were always an issue. They were not. People in Messianic Judaism who assume that these were always a problem are listening to the wrong people - people with an agenda. You see, from the Second Century onward these two religions defined themselves against one another. Getting through 1,800 years of obfuscation is difficult. In the Twelfth Century, the RAMBAM went so far as to codify thirteen "I believes" - with an attempt to make it impossible for Judaism to accept a Divine Messiah. Yet, ancient Jewish texts from before the First Century find no difficulty with a Divine Messiah.

The writers of the Apostolic Scriptures had no difficulty either. For those who like to ride the fence on this issue: the Scriptures may not give a formulaic doctrine, but there is no doubt regarding the Deity of Messiah.

He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the Kingdom of the Son of His love, in Whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins. He is the image of the invisible G-d, the firstborn over all creation. For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.
Colossians 1:13-17

If that is not clear enough, Paul adds:

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Messiah. For in Him dwells all the fullness of Deity [theotes = literally "G-d-ness"] bodily; and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power.
Colossians 2:8-10

Parashat Vayera - 'And [He] Appeared' (Genesis 18:1-22:24)

This week's parasha is from the first word in Genesis 18:1: Vayera. It is literally, "And appeared." Who or What appeared? This is the focus of this week's portion beginning in chapter 18 and ending with the last verse of chapter 22. Beloved, pay attention to what is made visible - it is pointing to something invisible. The word vayera comes from the root verb ra'ah [to make visible, to manifest].

This is how the parasha begins:

Vayera elav HaShem b'elonei Mamre v'hu yoshev petach-haohel k'chom hayom.

And HaShem appeared unto him [Abraham] in the plains of Mamre: and he sat in the tent door in the heat of the day.

For the Torah to tell us that HaShem "appeared" to Abraham is a profound thing. It is something that most Jewish commentators have difficulty with. Ironically, it is the words of Paul in the Apostolic Scriptures that should cause all of us to look at this verse with a sense of awe. Here is what Paul says:

Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, to G-d who alone is wise, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen.
1Timothy 1:17

So, if G-d is invisible, how was he seen by Abraham? Those who come from a Christian background may skip over this difficulty too easily. After all, how can the infinite G-d be temporal? This profound mystery is dealt with in the incarnation of Messiah Yeshua - and yet, questions remain. The enormity of G-d appearing in a form that is visible and temporal should never be lost upon us. Here is why: Whenever G-d appears - He is relating to man in man's way. This is the essence of Philippians 2:5-7:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Messiah Yeshua,  Who, being in the form of G-d, did not consider it robbery to be equal with G-d, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
Philippians 2:5-8

And we know the outcome of that "humbling":

Therefore G-d also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Yeshua every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Yeshua Messiah is HaShem, to the glory of G-d the Father.
Philippians 2:9-11

It is a big deal for HaShem to "appear."

We are told in this week's portion what this appearance to Abraham was all about. He appeared in order to put the promise of a son Genesis 15:4 into the context of flesh and blood. Spiritual concepts are always best explained in person. Lest we approach life like the pagan philosophies, G-d always makes spiritual things tangible in some way.

There was also the bad news of what HaShem was going to do to those who dwelt in the plain - in Sodom and Gomorrah. In that explanation, we are given a glimpse into how Abraham himself was making "spiritual concepts" tangible. The G-d of the Universe spoke this way about a mere man, our father Abraham:

For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of HaShem, to do righteousness and justice, that HaShem may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.
Genesis 18:19

Abraham had been paying attention. He was acting out what He learned of the Holy One, blessed is He. His faith was put into deeds.

Which brings us to the last of the thematic element of "appearing" in this week's portion. It is found in the Akeidah, the "Binding of Isaac." The sages named the passage found in Genesis 22:1-18 the Akeidah, which means "binding." The word comes from Genesis 22:9. The meaning of the verb akad [bind] is best understood when you examine an adjective which also comes from it. The adjective akod means "striped." Literally, to bind someone is to leave stripes on them. The binding of Isaac left visible marks upon him. Stripes. Although the word is different, we are given a glimpse into their prophetic import when we read the words of Isaiah 53:7-7:

But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and HaShem has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth.
Isaiah 53:5-7

It was not enough to promise redemption, or even to decree it. Yeshua had to physically bring it about. It was visible, as are the marks now upon Him.

Yes, this week's portion begins with HaShem appearing to Abraham to promise a Seed. It ends with Abraham offering up Isaac - and the gracious act of the Almighty revealing a substitute. The same root verb ra'ah from which this week's portion gets its title comes in the following verses.

And Abraham said, My son, G-d will provide [ra'ah: make visible, manifest] Himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.
Genesis 22:8

Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked [ra'ah], and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son. And Abraham called the name of the place, HaShem-Will-Make-It-Seen; as it is said to this day, "In the Mount of HaShem it shall be seen."
Genesis 22:13-14

Abraham's faith was in the unseen. G-d promised to give Abraham descendants through Isaac. Abraham understood that although there was the problem of how G-d could do that after He commanded Abraham to offer his son as a burnt offering - G-d would have to somehow manifest, and make visible the resolution. It is what the writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews had in mind when he wrote of our ancestors of faith.

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them.
Hebrews 11:13a

Beloved, if someone tells you that what only matters is what is in the heart (unseen), don't believe it. The heart is where things begin in man, but if it is on the heart, it will soon be visible. It is why faith without works is dead. The same is true with G-d. Our faith may be to trust in He Who is unseen, but that is only temporary. All of the unseen things of G-d will be manifested and seen in time. This week's portion teaches important things about what is seen, and what is unseen - and how the two are always related.

Who have you seen from afar off? Be patient. He will yet appear to you.

Haftarat Vayera - 'And He Appeared' (2Kings 4:1-37)

After you read the Torah portion this week, you will readily see the connection between it and the reading from the prophets. It is about what is invisible and miraculous, being made visible. As such, it is also about Messiah.

There are two accounts in this week's haftarah portion: the account of the widow and the oil that did not run out, and the account of the miraculous birth, death, and resurrection of the woman from Shunem.

Both of these accounts are within the greater account of the ministry of Elisha the prophet. What intrigues me most is the connection between the second account and our Torah portion; and how they both relate to the Apostolic Scriptures.

It begins this way. The Shunammite woman is convinced that Elisha was a true prophet. She and her husband prepared a place in their home for the prophet to stay whenever he was in the area. Considering her faith and her good deeds, Elisha wants in some way to repay her.

And it happened one day that he came there, and he turned in to the upper room and lay down there. Then he said to Gehazi his servant, "Call this Shunammite woman." When he had called her, she stood before him. And he said to him, "Say now to her, 'Look, you have been concerned for us with all this care. What can I do for you? Do you want me to speak on your behalf to the king or to the commander of the army?'" She answered, "I dwell among my own people." So he said, "What then is to be done for her?" And Gehazi answered, "Actually, she has no son, and her husband is old." So he said, "Call her." When he had called her, she stood in the doorway. Then he said, "About this time next year you shall embrace a son." And she said, "No, my lord. Man of G-d, do not lie to your maidservant!" But the woman conceived, and bore a son when the appointed time had come, of which Elisha had told her.
2Kings 11-17

The G-d of Israel likes miraculous births doesn't He? Like Sarah, like Rebekah, like Hannah, like Miriam. G-d must have delighted in promising these pious women that they would have a son. But the promise is not where it stops. G-d promises and it is made visible. Vayera. All those women gave birth. In this case, the prophet Elisha prophesies, and HaShem carries out His plan. The Shunammite woman gives birth.

We are supposed to see the connection of course to the promise, and the miraculous birth of Isaac. That is not where the Isaac connection stops.

And the child grew. Now it happened one day that he went out to his father, to the reapers. And he said to his father, "My head, my head!" So he said to a servant, "Carry him to his mother." When he had taken him and brought him to his mother, he sat on her knees till noon, and then died. And she went up and laid him on the bed of the man of G-d, shut the door upon him, and went out. Then she called to her husband, and said, "Please send me one of the young men and one of the donkeys, that I may run to the man of G-d and come back."

When Elisha came into the house, there was the child, lying dead on his bed. He went in therefore, shut the door behind the two of them, and prayed to HaShem. And he went up and lay on the child, and put his mouth on his mouth, his eyes on his eyes, and his hands on his hands; and he stretched himself out on the child, and the flesh of the child became warm. He returned and walked back and forth in the house, and again went up and stretched himself out on him; then the child sneezed seven times, and the child opened his eyes. And he called Gehazi and said, "Call this Shunammite woman." So he called her. And when she came in to him, he said, "Pick up your son." So she went in, fell at his feet, and bowed to the ground; then she picked up her son and went out.
2Kings 4:18-22; 33-37

Like Isaac, the promised son, the beloved son, was born. Like Isaac, the promised son, the beloved son, died. Like Isaac, the promised son, the beloved son was raised from the dead. "Wait a minute," you may say, "Isaac did not die. Isaac was not raised from the dead!" Quite true beloved. That is where the Apostolic Scriptures come in. Here is what it says in the Epistle to the Hebrews:

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises offered up his only begotten son, of whom it was said, "In Isaac your seed shall be called," concluding that G-d was able to raise him up, even from the dead, from which he also received him in a figurative sense.
Hebrews 11:17-19

There is a single word for the phrase "figurative sense." It is the word parabole, or in English "parable." What parable has Isaac dying? Perhaps this one:

Rabbi Yehuda said: when the knife touched Isaac's neck, his soul flew out of his body. When the Voice emerged from between the cherubim and commanded, "Do not send your hand to hurt the youth, " his soul returned to his body, and Isaac stood up on his feet, and realized that so too would the dead be eventually resurrected. He declared, "Blessed are you O G-d, who resurrects the dead."
Pirkei d' R'Eliezer

For Abraham, it was just as if Isaac had died. He was committed when the knife was raised. His faith, thus tested, was made visible in that moment. Of course, Messiah is pictured in the birth and offering of Isaac. Our haftarah and the Shunammite woman's son adds to the picture as does Hebrews 11.

Nice thoughts are not enough. Faith, by itself, is not enough. That which is promised must be seen (for example Isaac and the Shunammite's son). When tested, faith is evidenced (or it is not faith).

Abraham passed the test. So did the Shunammite women. Go back and read her comment to her husband, and to Elisha's servant. Knowing her son was dead, and hurrying to Elisha to tell him, she was confident that HaShem was a G-d of miracles.

Then she called to her husband, and said, "Please send me one of the young men and one of the donkeys, that I may run to the man of G-d and come back." So he said, "Why are you going to him today? It is neither the New Moon nor the Sabbath." And she said, "It is well."
2Kings 4:22-23

And so she departed, and went to the man of G-d at Mount Carmel. So it was, when the man of G-d saw her afar off, that he said to his servant Gehazi, "Look, the Shunammite woman! Please run now to meet her, and say to her, 'Is it well with you? Is it well with your husband? Is it well with the child?'" And she answered, "It is well."
2Kings 4:25-26

Faith must be made visible by what we do. It was not enough for Yeshua to be promised. He had to be born of the Tribe of Judah, of the Davidic line. It was not enough that He lived a perfect Torah life, He had to die. It was not enough that He died, He had to be raised from the dead. It is all there in the TaNaKh for us to believe, but HaShem made it all visible in Yeshua.

How is your faith made visible, every day?

Prayer Focus for Vayera -  'G'vurot' [G-d's Might]

The resurrection of the dead is a fundamental teaching of Scripture. It is odd to consider that there was any debate over it. We know that between 200 BCE and 70 CE there was a sect of Judaism called the Sadducees who did not believe that Scripture taught about the resurrection of the dead. The surviving sects of Judaism most assuredly understand that there is a resurrection, and a final judgment.

Our Master, Yeshua taught us quite clearly on the subject, and His first disciples faithfully carried that message. It is our hope. It is our firm conviction. It is in the Shemoneh Esrei prayer.

You are eternally mighty, my L-rd, the Resuscitator of the dead are You; abundantly able to save.
He sustains the living with kindness, resuscitates the dead with abundant mercy, supports the fallen, heals the sick, releases the confined, and maintains His faith to those who sleep in the dust.
Who is like You, O Master of mighty deeds, and who is comparable to You, O King Who causes death and restores life and makes salvation sprout!
And You are faithful to resuscitate the dead.
Blessed are You, HaShem, Who resuscitates the dead.

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