This morning the Lord was speaking to me through two different articles I read on the web. (What, you think He only talks through the bible?)
So I was reading the comment section of James Pyles article “What Am I, Chopped Liver?” and thinking about my personal situation – that God has called me to follow His Torah, one step at a time. And I was wrestling with Him about the chosenness of His people, and how I fit into that mix.
Now, I attend a Messianic synagogue that has been around for a long time and promotes one in Messiah. So when I am studying at TAK it’s not an issue. But when I come to blogs like James’, I question my understanding. I think this is a good thing because it either cleans away the garbage that clutters my understanding or solidifies it. I also appreciate the discussion had on his site.
After reading this blog and the comments, I checked my email and found this article “Abraham and the Chosen People“. Here, the primacy of the Jewish people is explained and solidified. And it also states:
Yet, Yeshua ministered to all who put their faith in Him as the Messiah. He also instructed His Jewish followers to reach out to all peoples.
“He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved.’” (Mark 16:15–16)
So, where do I land in all this?
God chose Israel, and remains faithful to His Chosen People – no matter what. Why? Because it doesn’t depend on them, but on Him. And because He places such importance on them, I do the same. I also remember that they have had a relationship with God a lot longer than I have (or we have, as Gentiles). Because of their relationship, I look to them for how to walk in obedience to the Creator of the Universe who pulled me out of bondage to sin, and grafted me into His people.
Now some would say this is another form of replacement theology. However, I had a conversation with my cousin a couple of days ago which proves just the opposite. My cousin is like my big sister, second mother, mentor, and best friend all rolled into one. She is a believer and has been very concerned about my walk toward Judaism and asked, “So, are you giving up all you believed and celebrated? Are you converting?”
You see, from her perspective I am leaving behind my family and holiday traditions and walking a new path. And she’s right. In my heart of hearts, I join Ruth in saying, “Your people will be my people, and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16)
And I hear my Jewish Messiah telling His Jewish disciples my leaders, “Go and make disciple of all nations…teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.” (Matth 28:19)
So this is where I land – it is no longer I who live, but the Torah observant, Jewish Messiah who lives in me.
Yes, Ro, it is still a di-lemma, and likely to remain so — because making gentile disciples is somewhat different from making Jewish ones. We might look at it through the lens of Rav Shaul’s olive-tree analogy, which someone recently asked me to explain. Here’s what I offered:
All such [grafted-in] references are based on Rav Shaul’s use of an analogy in his letter to the Roman assemblies in Rom.11:17-24. He wrote about wild olive branches being grafted into a cultivated olive tree, that could thus share in the nourishment obtained from the roots of that tree. He also wrote about the possibility of branches, either native or wild ones, becoming broken off of that tree, and even being re-grafted back onto it. Many people mistake the exact elements being symbolized in this analogy, and thus draw false conclusions about its meaning.
The first element to understand is that this tree represents all those who share faith in HaShem, who trust Him. Verse 20 is the key that shows the definition of this tree, because unbelief is the mechanism that breaks a branch off of the tree, and faith is the mechanism by which one remains on the tree. At one time, the only branches on that tree were the natural native ones, which is to say Jews. The cultivation of that tree represents the Torah covenant that inculcated faith into the entire culture of the Jewish people – thus Jews were a people who had been acculturated to the notion of faith or trust. Being broken off of the tree refers to a loss of faith or a rejection of it. Being grafted onto the tree represents acquiring faith (or regaining it if it had been lost or rejected). Wild branches represent non-Jews from cultures that were not acculturated to faith in HaShem. They were not naturally accustomed to it, but they could learn faith by means of the teachings of Rav Yeshua and thus be “grafted” onto the tree of faith to which they were not native, “contrary to nature” (meaning by means of deliberate intervention by a gardener). The sap of the tree must then represent the nourishment of Torah knowledge, perspective, and insight that Jews have cultivated for many centuries to elaborate the meaning of a life of faith. The root of the tree is thus the source of this nourishment, the Torah.
It is important also to understand what the tree is not. For example, though the tree is Jewish by nature, the tree itself is not Judaism, nor Israel, nor the body of Jewish people. The tree is naturally Jewish because the faith it represents was at one time virtually the sole province of the Jewish people and they were the only branches on the tree. But grafting wild branches onto the tree does not make them Jewish, nor does it make them Israelites or Jews. It makes them faith-filled wild branches – gentiles with Jewish-styled faith in HaShem’s promises.
Now there is another analogy or metaphor that may cause one additional confusion. Rav Yeshua has been compared to the Torah, because he so thoroughly embodied and enacted its principles and its wisdom. In fact, his statement in Jn.14:6 about being “the way and the truth and the life” employs a phrase commonly used to describe the Torah, and it appears that he was putting himself in the place of the Torah and speaking on its behalf when he said that “no one comes to the Father but by me”, meaning that no one approaches the Father except by means of the principles expressed in Torah. This intimate relationship between Rav Yeshua and the Torah then opens the door to viewing him also as the root of the olive tree in Rav Shaul’s metaphor. Some would mistakenly infer, then, that to be united with Rav Yeshua and members of his body, as described in Eph.5:30, must also mean that they are embedded in the root of the olive tree. However, that mystical notion does not fit the olive tree analogy, because not all of Rav Yeshua’s disciples are so intimately bound up with Torah, as we see in Acts 15 where gentile disciples are specifically exempted from obligation to keep the whole of Torah in the way that Jews are obligated to do (as we see mentioned in Rav Shaul’s comment to the Galatian assemblies in Gal.5:3). Thus, even if we do associate him with the olive tree root in some manner, that does not apply to us as his disciples unless we can also claim to equal his knowledge of Torah and his obedience to it. Anyone who tried to claim such would have to be suspected of a lack of humility, at least, and perhaps a bit of foolish self-delusion.
Now, this analogy doesn’t quite answer the questions about Torah observance for non-Jews, though Acts 15 offers a starting point to differentiate between two discipleship types, and perhaps it also explains Rav Shaul’s reference to two different versions of gospel: one addressed to the circumcised, and the other to the uncircumcised (viz:Gal.2:7), neither of which is to be dismissed as merely so much “chopped liver”. [:)]
PL, I love your analogy!
“The cultivation of that tree represents the Torah covenant that inculcated faith into the entire culture of the Jewish people – thus Jews were a people who had been acculturated to the notion of faith or trust.”
Yet, as I read what you are saying, I could use the same words to support the idea that wild branches once grafted in go through the acculturation by obedience to Torah.
“The sap of the tree must then represent the nourishment of Torah knowledge, perspective, and insight that Jews have cultivated for many centuries to elaborate the meaning of a life of faith. The root of the tree is thus the source of this nourishment, the Torah.”
The Torah is the source of my nourishment. Everything I see in the Torah calls for faith in order to be obedient. If you’ve read my post What Does the Sabbath Teach, you get a brief glimpse into the amount of faith it took to stop working, stop shopping, stop cleaning that it took.
I must say, that I sit here chuckling and shaking my head at all of us, because we look at the same set of words and sentences and see something different. In looking at Acts 15, I see an encouragement to learn and follow Torah, you see a lifting of Torah observance for Gentiles. In reading Rav Shaul’s words in Gal 2:7, I see that the way the gospel is presented has to be different – after all, without Torah us Gentiles would not know what sin is, nor would we understand that there is a need for a Redeemer. So the ultimate message is the same, but presentation is different. And in your own analogy, which I really do like, I see it confirming that the Torah keeps us grafted in, because obedience to Torah is an act of faith.
You know what I love best, PL? That one day, Messiah will come and explain it all and we will all have a good laugh. In the meantime, I so appreciate you sharing your insights. I learn a lot.
Indeed, Ro, the acculturation to faith certainly does occur as wild branches reside on the tree and absorb Torah nutrients, and receive treatment from the Gardener (e.g., pruning) comparable to that given the native branches. Moreover, by faith does it become possible to set aside insecurities, so as to enable facing the discomfort of working to distinguish between applications of Torah which apply to everyone (including wild branches) and those which apply only to someone else (i.e., only to the native ones).
Acts 15:21 hints at the responsibility for non-Jews to learn Torah, even after it had just been clarified that their legal obligations to specific performance were very limited. Why then to learn? I would suggest that making the distinctions I described in the above paragraph requires a depth of Torah understanding, because even common principles of Torah might result in different praxis for Jews and for non-Jews to obey. For example, I recently was looking closely at the text of Is.56 (vs.2&6) to consider the characteristics of how the “foreigner”, who is being commended by HaShem for clinging to His covenant, actually approaches the Shabbat. He is described only as keeping from profaning it; whereas Jews are elsewhere commanded to actually sanctify it and guard it. This suggests some sort of difference in the specific behaviors associated with it. I’m still grappling with what that may mean, and how gentile obedience and compliance to this may thus differ from what I know as my Jewish responsibilities and praxis. But it does show that what constitutes obedience for one may be disobedience if another tries to do the same rather than what is appropriate to him or her.
When you arrive at an understanding of the differences of Shabbat, PL, I’d love to hear what you discovered.
It’s interesting that when G-d called me to start honoring the Sabbath, the first thing He had me do was light the candles to start it, and Havdalah to close it. It has grown from that starting point, little by little. Unless that was my own vain imagining placing something on the Ruach that wasn’t there.