Not Excited About the People of Zion?

Source: http://realjerusalemstreets.files.wordpress.com A great place to see Jerusalem in photography.

Why do we argue? Why do we care so much? It is, no doubt, because questions of identity, the role each one of us plays in God’s plan, is fundamental to who we are.

Out here in Internet-Land we have a diversity of people. The many groups who share in a “Messianic” faith come from different places and struggle with identity from different ends of the spectrum. I am a convert to Judaism and my journey to Judaism started as a journey to Jesus in college. It was through Jesus that I fell in love with Jewish history, the meaning of Jewish life in the Western world, and the past, present, and future of the people of Israel. I joined this great nation because I have been caught up in the vision ever since. And after a decade and a half of confusion stemming from Dispensationalist Christian teaching (I was a Baptist and thorough-going Dispensationalist), I converted along with my wife and children.

Others are coming into Messianic faith a different way. And it is to this group I hope to say a word. Yesterday, inevitably, an argument broke out. There was a rather uncivil one here in the comments and I had two much more civil conversations via email with others. Many come into the Messianic faith excited about Torah, the full context of walking with Messiah that has been unwisely stifled in the life of Christianity, and unfortunately, for these people it is largely true that love for the people of Israel has been a small or non-existent part of the Messianic equation.

Do you recognize yourself in that statement? Do you recognize your teacher, your group, the viewpoint of those from whom you learn on various websites? Are they zealous for Torah and unenthusiastic or even rancorous toward Judaism and Jewish people?

Have you truly come to the Messianic faith if you love Torah but not the Jewish people? Let us discuss this.

The idea of a Chosen People makes a lot of Messianics feel Unchosen. But I want to suggest that the thing you are resisting is not only biblical, it is beautiful and life-affirming.

In several conversations yesterday and in the frequent interactions I have people use a particular Bible verse in an unusual way. The verse they use is Galatians 3:28, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Messiah Yeshua.”

Honestly, this is how Messianic gentiles think of this verse, based on what they write to me:

  • The chosenness of the people of Israel used to matter before Messiah came.
  • The chosenness of the people of Israel does not matter anymore.
  • In Messiah, we who follow him, though not born as Jews, have become Israel.
  • Any teaching about Torah being given to Israel or about Israel’s ongoing election as the Chosen People is divisive and does not respect the equality of all Messiah’s followers.
  • When you Messianic Jews (emphasis on “Jews”) write about Israel’s unique place in God’s plan, it alienates us.

My response:

  • No one is alienating you, but you will not find your place in God’s plan by denying the truth and failing to grasp the beauty of the Abrahamic blessing.
  • In terms of believing the scriptures, the no-more-Chosen-People interpretation of Galatians 3:28 is faithlessness, not faith.
  • The male-female distinction remains as does the Jew-gentile distinction.
  • You cannot come to Torah, that which was given to Israel, and push Israel off into the background and essentially try to take Israel’s place.
  • You can, however, come to Torah as a gentile, recognize that it is first and foremost God’s covenant with the people of Israel, and come alongside Israel, keeping Torah as one of the righteous of the nations.

When you read the numerous biblical promises that are Israel-centered, if you are not Jewish, do not be rankled by them. Be overjoyed with the goodness of God’s plan. Fall in love. Do not say, “If am not the firstborn I don’t feel like a true child.” Believe what the Father says: “I sent my firstborn out looking for those I would adopt and love along with them.”

A book I am reading and will soon review here, by a pastor in New Zealand, makes much of this verse (which has ironic application to the struggle of many non-Jewish Messianics for identity and to grasp the election of Israel):

For the Lord has a day of vengeance, a year of recompense for the cause of Zion.
-Isaiah 34:8

The book I am talking about is The Controversy of Zion and the Time of Jacob’s Trouble by Dalton Lifsey. The King James translates Isaiah 34:8 not as “cause of Zion” but as “controversy of Zion.” (see Lifsey’s book here on amazon and I will be reviewing it soon).

Why should there be, among Messianics, a controversy over Zion? Why should anyone get rankled when I write a blog post stating, as Torah clearly does, that “Torah is not a covenant made with any nation on earth except Israel, but is rather an eternal, unending code of relationship between God and the specific people Israel”?

Do you not know? Have you not heard? You [Israel] shall be my own possession among all peoples … These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel … you are a people holy to the Lord your God … a people for his own possession, out of all the peoples that are on the face of the earth … the Lord set his heart in love upon your fathers and chose their descendants after them, you above all peoples (Exod 19:5-6; Deut 7:6-8; 10:15).

How can a Messianic not be excited about the people of Zion? How can the countless promises of Future Hope centered in Zion with the remnant of Israel being the forerunner of end times blessing not thrill a Messianic?

If you and your group are not excited about these things, please, read Deuteronomy again. You say you love Torah. Do you read it?

If you and your group are not excited about these things, learn the Future Hope promises of the prophets. You will find that God’s way of reaching the whole world starting with one people is a covenant of love, not discrimination, and that the inclusion of all God’s sons and daughters follows logically from his choice of Israel as his firstborn.

This entry was posted in Judeo-Christian, messianic, Messianic Jewish, Messianic Judaism, Messianic Prophecy, Replacement Theology, Supersessionism, Zion Theology, Zionism. Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Not Excited About the People of Zion?

  1. Derek Leman says:

    I will be away from my computer most or all of today, so if you comment and don’t hear back from me, it is not because I don’t care 🙂

    Meanwhile, this could be a chance for you to pontificate without having me respond right away!

    Note: first-time commenters have to be approved and so don’t be upset if your comment doesn’t show up right away. If you’ve commented here before, your comment will go right up.

  2. James says:

    Ah ha! It seems like we both blogged about the conversation that happened on your previous blog post. Enjoy your day away from the computer. Never know what will be waiting for you when you get back. 😉

  3. Drake says:

    Leman,
    You and I don’t always see eye-to-eye, which is OK. While watching a cool-headed scholar become irritated is actually sickly thrilling for me, I must stay myself for breather. I think it’s about time we take a break from identity politics for a while, lest we all morph into Tim Wise or Cornell West and become equally as useless. This has to be exhausting for you. Talk about a feast or your favorite theologians.
    Geez man. You’re gonna burn out like a rockstar.
    Be well,
    -Drake

    • “Leman….[t]alk about a feast or your favorite theologians.”

      Drake… you must not be very “Excited About the People of Zion”!

      • Drake says:

        @Shlomovich,

        I’m totally down with the tribes, man. 🙂

        I just think we can get bogged down and scare people away from discussions. In no way am I minimizing the importance of it (and from what I gather about your posts you seem the most passionate defender of the distinctions in around this parsec), but issues that normally develop into open flamewars I try to keep in private email, that’s all.

        People think the movement is a bunch of crazies, and generally many of these threads degenerate as they reach the bottom. I’m not tired of hearing about the Jewish People as your swipe would imply, I just imagine that it is probably taxing on Derek to have to put up with it all the time, and emphasizes why I like FFOZ. I don’t agree with everything they say either, but they are just plain nice people that work hard to unite on common ground.

        My brother and I spend all day writing campaign material bashing liberals. And while that is fun (very), I simply like to keep it out of my spiritual life.

        ShLM
        -D>>

        • Drake says:

          PS. I think it would be an undertaking of cosmic proportions to even attempt divorcing Jews from Judaism. That’s just silly.

          • Drake says:

            PPS. Maybe I am new to online theological debates, but I hear some hideous things said about Leman and other MJs I happen to know and like. I saw more of it on the last thread, and it just grates at me. That’s all. Maybe I just worry about my friends…

  4. Andrew T. says:

    To say all distinction was erased after Messiah came means God is self-contradicting. You don’t even have to reference to understand that Jewish and gentile obligation to Torah is clearly distinct, because it’s right there in the Bible, plain as day. Grafted in does not mean replacing. Circumcision of the heart is a different matter from the physical ceremony of circumcision.

    In MJ the problem is sometimes worse than apathy toward Chazzal, though. I have even seen a Messianic website or two that regurgitated the rhetoric of antisemites against the Talmud.

  5. shannon says:

    I have a honest question, but I am not very familiar with Messianic Judiasn, so if I word something incorrectly, please understand it’s from ignornace and not meant to be disrepectful in anyway whatsoever.

    My husband and I have been believers for many years. We have always had great respect for the Jewish people and understood not only their special convenant relationship with G-d before the coming of the Messiah, but the many prophetic promises to Israel yet to be fulfilled. I believe even cursory view of the scriptures show G-d’s great love and plan for the Jewish people. We have never believed in replacement theology, etc. That’s our starting point, and here’s our situation:

    While we have cared for the jewish people dearly, we have carried on our lives in traditional gentile fashion, christmas, easter, bacon cheeseburgers, etc. This September our pastor challenged our church to read the entire bible in 90days, we took the challenge up as a family. When you are reading the scriptures that quickly, you get a very cohesive view of the totality of scripture. We were confused at why the church meets on Sundays, instead of keeping the sabbath as that particular command was part of the ten commandments, and so forth. At the same time we became aware of the many pagan roots of the holidays that many pagans still adhere to today, so we decided for our family that we couldn’t keep these any longer. We are contemplating celebrating the biblical Holy Days, as a way of building traditions with our family and teaching training our children in the ways of the L-rd (we have 7 children). We realize we are gentiles, we are not bound to anything, but our heart is to honor the L-rd and live our lives in a way that would please G-d. My question is, would this be an afront to our jewish brothers and sisters? An offense or stumbling block perhaps? My husband met with a local shamash, who invited us to join them for their feasts and celebrations with the understanding that we would remain at our local church. He seemed very welcoming and supportive as long as we understood we were not bound to do these things. We also began keeping some of the dietary instructions, because I was given a book by a good friend who is a Messianic Jew about how the hebrew deitary laws are beneficial to the body, and I have systemic Lupus and frankly need any help I can get with my health, pork for instance has been proven to be extremely determental to someone with arthritis, etc. I would be most interested in you opinion on these issues, and again if I said anything offensive it was out of ignornace and would welcome any isntruction on the matter. I appreciate you blog, it has been very informative, thank you for your time and ministry.

    Blessings,

    Shannon

  6. Derek Leman says:

    Drake:

    No probs, man. I took your comment in the best light and understood it in a friendly way.

  7. Derek Leman says:

    Shannon:

    To fully answer your question, I’d need to write a few thousand words. Let me briefly say a few things.

    Up till now you’ve had two things going on which are beginning to change because you’ve quickly increased your Bible Quotient:
    (1) You’ve been a part of a tradition that you did not understand (I’m guessing an evangelical or Baptist church?).
    (2) Your biblical knowledge was confined largely to the common Bible texts of evangelical faith (mostly Paul’s letters).

    Now you’ve branched out. Realizing you had no tradition or at least no thoughtful tradition in your practice, you would like to find a tradition and one that makes sense.

    When you read about ancient Israel keeping a calendar that is holy and is about God, you are drawn to it. That is good. If you would like to keep Passover and Sukkot because you like what it represents, that is a fine choice to make.

    You’ve also been exposed to some of the “Christian holidays are pagan” arguments (you didn’t hear those from reading the Bible). Let me say that what you have heard about Christian holidays being pagan is about 20% true and 80% untrue. Eggs, bunnies, and the name Easter — not so good. I’m not convinced Christmas trees are pagan (I say this thoughtfully and not as someone who hasn’t looked into it). Certainly Christmas in general is not pagan. It is about the incarnation. That is Christian, not pagan. The date of December 25 is nothing, made up, stemming from a time when the church found it convenient to have feasts on Roman holidays (but the timing of Christmas is not thereby damnably pagan).

    I would urge you not to look down on Christians for celebrating Christmas and there is no compelling reason for you to abandon it if you enjoy it and it adds meaning to your faith. And you can bring back the reason for Easter, calling it something else and forgetting about fertility symbols. I commemorate the resurrection on the Sunday after Passover every year (which is usually the same date as Easter).

    The understanding you received of the dietary law from this book is in error. Complete error. Without any foundation. Pork is good food. If I wasn’t Jewish I would eat pork. Some non-Jews might refrain from pork because they are intermarried with a Jewish spouse, they have numerous Jewish friends and wish to abstain in solidarity, or the like. God gave all the animals, including pig, to Noah to eat (Gen 9:3). He only forbids Israel to eat the animals considered unclean in Leviticus 11.

    It sounds as if you are happy in your church home. If that is true, I would advise you to keep studying the Hebrew Bible. Become an advocate for closer and deeper reading and study of the Bible. Use good reference works and study more than the English translation you happen to have. Find out how to read good scholarship on the Bible. BTW, I have several email lists with notes on daily Bible readings (the Daily D’var and the Daily Isaiah) which are free.

    I hope this is a good start to answering your question. Feel free to shoot me more or email me at yeshuaincontext at gmail.

  8. Derek Leman says:

    Oh, Shannon, I forgot to mention, the day of worship does not matter. Jews worship on Sabbath because it was the day of rest. Sabbath is not a required day of worship. That is a misunderstanding based on an unfortunate mistranslation in Leviticus 23.

    And there is no need for you to keep the Sabbath. If you learn more about it and decide you want to keep it, not out of obligation, but for other reasons, well and good. Sabbath is commanded only of Israel and is a special sign between Israel and God (Exod 31:13). Non-Jews are absolutely not commanded to keep it. I’d be glad to say more.

    • Andrew T. says:

      Let me ask you point blank, Derek: how does Rabbinic Judaism, Talmud, and halakha fit into this mold that you propose? In my opinion, presuming to keep Torah apart from serious engagement with normative Judaism is both a great misappropriation.

      • Andrew T. says:

        FFOZ, thank God, relies on a healthy dose of Rabbinic interpretation, eschewing all latent antisemitism in MJ. And, thank God, they no longer confound Jewish and gentile obligation to Torah. Really, I can’t find enough good things to say about those people. 🙂

  9. Andrew T. says:

    Shannon, may I recommend net.bible.org? It is a wonderful resource for in-depth Bible study, probably the best available. Though sometimes the experience of studying from a nicely crafted physical Bible is nicer. And I also strongly recommend subscribing by e-mail to Derek Leman’s Daily D’var. If you do, though, be prepared to encounter a dose of Biblical criticism, history, and archeology that may get you uncomfortable. If you’d rather not go there, but still seek to understand your faith Jewishly, First Fruits of Zion’s Torah Club series (http://ffoz.org/torahclub/index.html) is a great choice.

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  11. James says:

    Greetings Shannon.

    I really like your comment. I, more or less, agree with Derek’s response on all your points, but my situation is somewhat different from his and yours in that I’m a Gentile believer married to a non-believing Jewish woman. I must say that even if I were not married to a Jew, at this stage in my life, I would still keep “kosher-style” (keeping Kosher is much more involved than simply avoiding certain foods), observe a Saturday Sabbath, and pray with a siddur (prayer book). This is a matter of personal conviction for me rather than a requirement, but I find great beauty and joy in many Jewish practices such as lighting the Sabbath candles, building a sukkah (festival of Tabernacles), and blessing God’s Name in Hebrew (though my Hebrew pronunciation is terrible…as bad as my singing).

    I agree with Derek that you shouldn’t make sudden, drastic changes in your life or practice, but that you should continue to study and perhaps make a few changes slowly as you deem your family ready (lighting the Friday night candles and reciting the blessing was a good way for me to start). Andrew suggested accessing study materials from First Fruits of Zion (http://ffoz.org/) and I agree with him. Their work is of a very high quality and they do not engage in the controversies that you’ll sometimes find in the “Messianic” movement.

    I no longer consider myself “Messianic” but rather a Christian who is attempting to connect more deeply with my Savior through a study of the Jewish religious texts. I hope and pray you and your family will be illuminated by exploring new areas of learning.

    Blessings.

  12. shannon says:

    Thank you for your responses. We do love our church family and we understand that we should not to place our own convictions and practices on the same level as scripture. For example we homeschool, and while I think it’s has a biblical basis and has been wonderful for our family, I would not try to force our conviction on another. As far as christmas, easter, we haven’t done a whole lot of research on the matter, I know there are some almost beligerent teachings on the web about the issue though. How we came to this way of thinking is an odd story actually. We have a new fireplace in our home and I was looking through images on google to find a way to decorate it for christmas, I found a website that had lots of ideas for decorating the hearth with christmas type decor and when I went to save the website to my favorites, I realized I was on a wiccan blog…whoooaa! that really through me, what the ancient druids did 18oo years ago or Constantine’s ego trip doesn’t cause me nearly as much pause as thinking I’m decking the halls the same way the witches are in our current day. Maybe we’ll get over it, but for this year, we just feel like we can’t honor the L-rd and put up the tree, it’s personal. I am the church pianist and I will be playing the piano on Christmas eve for our service and singing about the birth of the Messiah, I can sing about that wonderful gift anytime of year, so we are supporting our church in that way. As far as Easter, that’s what we meant, no more baskets, eggs, etc., of course we will celebrate the Resurrection.

    As far as the biblical Holy Days, the Messianic Rabbi invited us to join them for a year and celebrate the feasts with them and come to Hebrew class. I have heard about anti-gentile leanings in the Messianic community, but this entire congregation was anything but. They were incredibly kind and welcoming of us, we didn’t feel like we were lesser thans or any other nonsense. We kept/honored/celebrated our first sabbath last week, and it was really wonderful, turning off the computers, phones, not working on the house. Friday night we turned the world off so to speak, enjoyed a nice meal. I made my first ever challah that afternoon-three braid-which my eldest daughter thought might be symbolic of the trinity, but I had to explain that I lack the skill for more complex challah braiding. We went to the local congregation, enjoyed an oneg meal, hebrew study, and came home. My husband read from scripture to close our night and we sang some praises, spent time with our children, etc.

    I am relieved to hear that our desire to learn and understand our hebrew roots will not be percieved as offensive if done with respect, thank you for taking the time to respond.

    Blessings,

    Shannon

  13. Derek Leman says:

    Shannon:

    Lovely response. You sound very healthy and sane in your approach to all of this and I want to say I’m glad to see intelligent people thinking through these issues. Be blessed in your family life, Bible learning, and walk with God.

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