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Rumination #11: What keeps Jewish people from correctly identifying the Messiah?

Most who would ask the question are merely strategizing as to what manner of cultural contextualization is necessary for their next evangelical thrust into a Jewish neighborhood or locality. Although I do not doubt their sincerity, I am puzzled by what they seem to be missing when they ask this rhetorical question. It is this: The Jews are Messiah's brothers. Consider the story of Joseph and his brothers. To the entire world, Joseph was the ruler of Egypt. But only his brothers could correctly identify who he really was. Maybe the ones who can't identify the Jewish Messiah are the ones that claim they know Him - the Christian church.

Clearly, the Almighty's sovereign plan of redemption is at work; but one day we must all give an account for every deed done in the body. What will that account look like before the Holy Judge?

For the vast majority of Jews, Messiah is "hiding" in plain sight. The greatest impediment to recognition is not the "blindness of the Law" as some might suggest (and to suggest that shows how clueless they really are). The greatest impediment is the disguise in which Christianity has dressed Him. No, I am not talking about the "Jesus" pictures found in some churches. I am not even talking about the laughable theological twists that Christianity has projected upon Yeshua. No, I am talking about the disguise that Christians themselves wear.

The primary reason why Jewish people have not correctly identified Messiah is because the people who claim to follow Him, do not look or act like His brothers, much less His disciples. It is His brothers that truly reveal Him. Yeshua taught us,

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

Are you Messiah's brother? Are you His disciple? Do you look like Him? Do you act like Him?

Parashat Vayigash - 'And he came near' (Genesis 44:18-47:27)

The name of this week's Scripture portion comes from the first word of Genesis 44:18.

Vayigash elav Y'huda vayomer bi adoni y'daber-na avd'cha davar b'aznei adoni v'al-yichar apcha b'avdecha ki chamocha k'Faro.

Then Judah came near to him and said: "O my lord, please let your servant speak a word in my lord's hearing, and do not let your anger burn against your servant; for you are even like Pharaoh."

This week's parasha opens with an amazing account of repentance and redemption. For two weeks of study, the Torah has held us in tension - subtly reminding us of the event in chapter 37, where Joseph was symbolically murdered (his father Jacob, thus deceived), and how he was sold into slavery in Egypt. The righteous Joseph, had been rejected by his brothers. He was a stranger in a foreign land. He looked like an Egyptian. He spoke the language of the Egyptians. He had a foreign name. He no longer appeared to be the son of Jacob, a descendant of Abraham and Isaac. All of that is about to change.

In a brief instant, Joseph would be revealed. What prompted this revelation? The repentance of Judah.

To better understand the significance of this repentance, we need to step back in the Torah's account. It was Judah's idea to sell Joseph into slavery - saving his life, but thereby deceiving his father Jacob.

So Judah said to his brothers, "What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother and our flesh." And his brothers listened.
Genesis 37:26-27

Judah's deception of Jacob is laden with symbolism as we will see.

So they took Joseph’s tunic, killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the tunic in the blood. Then they sent the tunic of many colors, and they brought it to their father and said, "We have found this. Do you know whether it is your son’s tunic or not?" And he recognized it and said, "It is my son's tunic. A wild beast has devoured him. Without doubt Joseph is torn to pieces." Then Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days. And all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and he said, "For I shall go down into the grave to my son in mourning." Thus his father wept for him.
Genesis 37:31-35

There are many ironies in these verses when compared to the later account of how Joseph concealed his identity from his brothers - but let's look at one word. When Joseph's brothers wanted Jacob to identify Joseph's blood-stained coat, they used the word nakar. In verse 32, the hiphil form of the verb is best translated, "Identify this, if you please."

The Torah does what appears to be an odd thing after these verses. It goes into excruciating detail on how Judah fathers his son Perez, by consorting with his twice widowed daughter-in-law Tamar, believing her to be a prostitute. A whole chapter in the Torah, which wastes not a letter, is devoted to this sordid account. It appears that the Torah wants us to know how bad a person Judah was. Beloved, that is not the point. We need to know who Perez is, and how he came to be born; because Perez is the ancestor of Messiah. Perez' name means "breach maker." We need to know how Judah came to repentance.

Tamar was twice widowed. Judah promised his third son to Tamar to marry and care for her. Judah did not keep his promise. Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute and conceived by her father-in-law Judah. Unable to pay, Judah gives his ring, his belt and his staff as a pledge to pay.

When it becomes known that Tamar is pregnant, outside of marriage, Judah demands her punishment. Tamar produces Judah's ring, belt (tzitzit), and staff and declares that the owner of the items was the father of the twins inside her.

And it came to pass, about three months after, that Judah was told, saying, "Tamar your daughter-in-law has played the harlot; furthermore she is with child by harlotry." So Judah said, "Bring her out and let her be burned!" When she was brought out, she sent to her father-in-law, saying, By the man to whom these belong, I am with child."  And she said, "Please determine whose these are - the signet and cord, and staff." So Judah acknowledged them and said, "She has been more righteous than I, because I did not give her to Shelah my son." And he never knew her again.
Genesis 38:24-26

Beloved, it was that word nakar that caught Judah's attention. It is used in exactly the same form with which the brothers had deceived Jacob. Ha-ker-na [Identify this, if you please...]. These are the only two times this verb is constructed this way in Scripture. This is the moment that the Torah records the amazing turn-around of this ancestor of Messiah. Judah will forever be changed. Evidence of that transformation was further seen in last week's portion. Remember Judah's pledge to his father?

Then Judah said to Israel his father, "Send the lad with me, and we will arise and go, that we may live and not die, both we and you and also our little ones. I myself will be surety for him; from my hand you shall require him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him before you, then let me bear the blame forever."
Genesis 43:8-9

Reuben had offered the lives of his two sons as surety. Judah, on the other hand offered himself. More than that, it becomes clear as the story unfolds, that Judah would never again allow his actions to be the source of his father's grief. Judah's repentance is now plainly evident to us the readers. It was only left for Joseph to know of this repentance. That is where this week's parasha opens.

Vayigash, and "he came near." Judah approaches his disguised brother Joseph - to plead that he be exchanged for Benjamin. Judah's complete repentance is now evident to all. It is this display of righteous repentance that prompts Joseph to reveal his identity. From Joseph's careful plan, we learn important lessons of repentance, and well-placed respect for Judah. How appropriate that all the sons of Israel are now called after this one son of Jacob. "Jews," from Judah.

Joseph responds to Judah's sacrificial evidence of repentance.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph; does my father still live?" But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed in his presence. And Joseph said to his brothers, "Please come near to me." So they came near. Then he said: "I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt."
Genesis 45:3-4

Beloved, if that were all we learned from this account, it would be enough. The Torah demands that we take the p'shat [the surface level] of its words, as instructive to us. But there is more to this account. There is a midrashic, prophetic level to this entire story. We are meant to read the word, "Ha-ker-na" [Identify this, if you please] and be drawn into a picture of confused and hidden identities. We are meant to wonder about the Messianic connections in the account of Judah and Joseph.

Messiah too was rejected by most of His brothers. He was murdered, and then given over to the Gentiles, many of whom claimed Him as one of their own. Messiah too has been concealed from His brothers - wearing Gentile clothes, speaking a Gentile language, having a Gentile name. There is little about how Gentiles have spoken about Messiah that would lead His brothers to identify Him as their Redeemer. Like Joseph, he even eats with Gentiles, withdrawing Himself from His brothers, the Jews.

Beloved, as Romans 11 teaches us, Messiah was hidden from His countrymen in order that Gentiles could also be saved from the famine of sin. And yet, in sin those same Gentiles have often boasted against Messiah's brothers. They have said that there is no longer a work of HaShem on behalf of the starving children of Jacob. They have hidden Messiah Yeshua behind the disguise of a Torah-breaking, founder of a new religion - a leader of pagans. Beloved, they are wrong. It has been for a season that Messiah has appearedto be Gentile. But He never was. Like Joseph, His identity was concealed - but He has always been, and will always be for His father Jacob. Messiah is, and will always be, a Jew.

Messiah has tested His brothers. He is learning of their repentance. One day soon, I pray, Judah will come near [vayigash], and make that repentance known for all to see. One day soon, I pray, Judah will come near to Messiah and say as Judah did that day in Egypt, "L-rd, please let Your servant speak a word in My L-rd's hearing, and do not let Your anger burn against Your servant...

In that moment, Messiah will reveal Himself to His brothers - to all of them.

And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn.
Zechariah 12:10

As Joseph, the firstborn of Rachel, Messiah, firstborn from the dead, will be revealed to His brothers. All of those Who trust in His Name will understand that this is the pivotal moment in the history of mankind. Judah will have lived up to his created purpose: He will have lived up to his name completely. All those called after Judah [Jew] will bring thankful praise to HaShem.

Beloved, keep this in mind as you study this week's portion. Keep in mind the character of Judah and how HaShem reveals it in these chapters. Keep in mind the lessons of repentance. Keep in mind the concealed identity of Messiah - and make it your aim to reveal His identity, by your deeds of repentance. We look forward to that day when He says to His brothers - to all Jews,

"Vayigashu... ani Yeshua akhikhem..."

"Please come near to me... I am Yeshua your brother..."

Then He will comfort them and console them in their repentance.

Next week's portion will reveal the masterful plan of redemption that HaShem worked on behalf of the sons of Jacob. In that we will continue to see the masterful plan of redemption of Messiah to redeem not only all of His brothers - but all those who will trust in His Name.

Haftarat Vayigash  - 'And he came near' (Ezekiel 37:15-28)

The sages chose the haftarah portion from Ezekiel 37:15-28 because of the reconciliation of Judah and Joseph. The Ezekiel passage speaks of the reconciliation of the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel. Israel is represented by the largest of the northern tribes, the half-tribe of Ephraim. Ephraim was Joseph's son, and Jacob's adopted son. To speak of the reunification of tribes Judah and Ephraim is to speak of the reunification of all twelve tribes - Israel, one people, one nation.

Ezekiel 37 starts with the vision of the Valley of Dry Bones. Ezekiel gives a glimpse of the renewal of the of Israel - as a people back from the dead. 1,800 years of Christian commentators have often explained away the plain meaning of this passage. And yet, after the Holocaust, the State of Israel emerged from the ashes. Still there are denominations that instead of recognizing the State of Israel as evidence of G-d's covenant faithfulness, see it as a profanity against G-d. How wrong they are. Their error, and their errant theology/philosophy stems from a misunderstanding of one little word: "eretz" [land]. Like so many who have allegorized Scripture, they missed the p'shat, the plain meaning. It really does mean "Land."

Then He said to me, "Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They indeed say, 'Our bones are dry, our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!' Therefore prophesy and say to them, 'Thus says HaShem AD-NAI: "Behold, O My people, I will open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves, and bring you into the land of Israel. Then you shall know that I am HaShem, when I have opened your graves, O My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put My Spirit in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I, HaShem, have spoken it and performed it," says HaShem.'"
Ezekiel 37:11-14

Yes, the Land is important. In fact, it is absolutely vital. Without the Land, the covenants made with Abraham and David are without meaning. The "New Covenant" is without meaning. Without the Land, there is no eternal redemption. Without the Land we are without hope. Why? Because, beloved, HaShem promised the Land quite literally, and if He does not fulfill this covenantal promise, then His Name is profaned and all hope in His promises is futile.

Although the State of Israel is not yet One Nation under HaShem's rule, they are in the Land, at least partially. This is a glimmer of what Ezekiel foresaw. Which leads us to this week's haftarah portion beginning in the next verse. And what we see beginning in verse 15 is amazing. It is so far-fetched that it reminds us of the depths of despair in the days of the Holocaust. In camps like Auschwitz, it was impossible to imagine the modern State of Israel that defends Jews where ever they are in the world. Even more so this prophetic vision:

Again the word of HaShem came to me, saying, "As for you, son of man, take a stick for yourself and write on it: 'For Judah and for the children of Israel, his companions.' Then take another stick and write on it, 'For Joseph, the stick of Ephraim, and for all the house of Israel, his companions.' Then join them one to another for yourself into one stick, and they will become one in your hand. And when the children of your people speak to you, saying, 'Will you not show us what you mean by these?' - say to them, 'Thus says HaShem AD-NAI: "Surely I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel, his companions; and I will join them with it, with the stick of Judah, and make them one stick, and they will be one in My hand."' And the sticks on which you write will be in your hand before their eyes. Then say to them, 'Thus says HaShem AD-NAI: "Surely I will take the children of Israel from among the nations, wherever they have gone, and will gather them from every side and bring them into their own land; and I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel; and one King shall be King over them all; they shall no longer be two nations, nor shall they ever be divided into two kingdoms again."
Ezekiel 37:15-22  

Some in Messianic circles imagine that "Ephraim" means Gentiles, and this prophecy relates to Jew and Gentile in one body, as in Ephesians' "Jew and Gentile, one in Messiah." As true as the picture of oneness of Jew and Gentile in Messiah is, this thinking falls back into the allegorical error of classical Christianity's view of this passage. It is speaking of the physical descendants of the northern tribes of Israel. What some have called the "Ten Lost Tribes." Quite honestly, I have never understood the phrase "Ten Lost Tribes" label - today we know the tribal identities of Judah, Benjamin, Levi, and likely Shimon. All of the northern kingdom is represented in Judaism today. True, some of those tribal identities are lost, but they are all there nonetheless. I believe this prophetic vision is speaking of tribal identities being restored - but the focus is not upon "lost" being now "found" but instead united under one King. That, beloved, is the point.

And look how they live:

They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols, nor with their detestable things, nor with any of their transgressions; but I will deliver them from all their dwelling places in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them. Then they shall be My people, and I will be their G-d. "David My servant shall be King over them, and they shall all have One Shepherd; they shall also walk in My judgments and observe My statutes, and do them. Then they shall dwell in the land that I have given to Jacob My servant, where your fathers dwelt; and they shall dwell there, they, their children, and their children's children, forever; and My servant David shall be their Prince forever.
Ezekiel 37:23-25

One nation, under One King, serving the One G-d, in perfect obedience to His Torah. Forever. Wow. No wonder everyone wants to allegorize this. How could this ever be? The answer is that this is speaking of the New Covenant. Now, I am not speaking of some new religion that some have created by appropriating part of Scripture and misapplying it. I am speaking of the New Covenant of Jeremiah 31 - the one with Israel and Judah - the same two kingdoms joined into one Kingdom with "David" as their King. Indeed, Gentiles are grafted into this Kingdom, but it is nonetheless a Covenant made with Israel and Judah.

Some commentators imagine a resurrected David as reigning over this reunited nation of Israel. I don't think so, and seeing it this way misses the way that the Hebrew Scriptures speak of Messiah. I like the way the Gutnick Edition Chumash translates this verse:

My Servant Mashiach [Messiah], a descendant of David, will reign over them and they will have one shepherd.
Ezekiel 37:24 Gutnick Edition Chumash

This vision is of the messianic age. It is the time when our Master, Yeshua the Messiah, will reign over all the house of Israel and Judah as King. It will be the fulfillment of the promises of the New Covenant. Notice the results of this New Covenant:

"Moreover I will make a covenant of peace with them, and it shall be an everlasting covenant with them; I will establish them and multiply them, and I will set My sanctuary in their midst forevermore. My tabernacle also shall be with them; indeed I will be their God, and they shall be My people. The nations also will know that I, HaShem, sanctify Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forevermore."
Ezekiel 37:26-28

That, beloved, is something never seen before. It is what we long for - the eternal dwelling of G-d among us. Our way into that Kingdom was secured for us by our Righteous Messiah and His work of redemption on our behalf. One day, all Israel will unite around Him. One day, as Joseph revealed himself to his brothers, so too will Yeshua announce to His brothers that He is Messiah. I imagine that one day, as the united Judah and Ephraim bow before Messiah, Him saying, "Vayigashu... ani Yeshua akhikhem..." [Come near to me, I am Yeshua, your brother].

May it be soon, and in our days.

Prayer Focus for Vayigash  -  'Atah Echad' [You Are One]

Of particular delight to our family is praying the minchah (afternoon prayers) together on Shabbat. As you may know, the Shemoneh Esrei is different on Shabbat, being only seven blessings instead of the weekday eighteen. What is special about Shabbat minchah is the portion concerning Israel being set apart for G-d. It is a blessing that recognizes the Sabbath Rest as a way that G-d has set His people apart, and a picture of the World to Come. In that way it is a prayer of thanksgiving for the future fulfillment of Ezekiel 37 and the promise of the New Covenant.

You are One, and Your Name is One and who is like Your people Israel, one nation on earth. The splendor of greatness and the crown of salvation, the day of contentment and holiness have You given to Your people. Abraham would rejoice, Isaac would exult, Jacob and his children would rest on it, a rest of love and magnanimity, a rest of truth and faith, a rest of peace and serenity and tranquility and security, a perfect rest in which You find favor. May Your children recognize and know that from You comes their rest, and through their rest, they will sanctify Your Name.

Our G-d and G-d of our forefathers, may You be pleased with our rest. Sanctify us with Your commandments and grant us our share in Your Torah; satisfy us from Your goodness and gladden us with Your salvation, and purify our heart to serve You sincerely. O HaShem, our G-d with love and favor grant us Your holy Sabbath as a heritage and may Israel, the sanctifiers of Your Name, rest on them. Blessed are You, HaShem, Who sanctifies the Sabbath.

-- ArtScroll Translation

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Standing in Prayer with all Israel,

Rick Spurlock
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