When It's Just Not Happening

October 25, 2013

Here at Interfaithfulness, our vision statement speaks of “Exploring the synergy between Judaism and Christianity, partnership between Christians and Jews, and the relationship between God’s tomorrow and our today.”  I want to look at that last component with you for a few minutes: “the relationship between God’s tomorrow and our today.”

One of the aspects of God’s tomorrow that I have been emphasizing in my teaching for decades is that the Jewish people will return to Torah obedience in the last days. Frankly, this has not been my most popular message. Many Jews find the Torah inconvenient, kind of like a maiden aunt to whom they show respect, but whom they don’t invite over very often. Many in the Messianic Jewish Movement are soured on Torah living not only because they want to avoid its seeming inconvenience but also because they have subscribed to theological constructs that teach that the era when Torah living was relevant and obligatory went out either with the coming of Messiah Yeshua, or His death, resurrection or ascension, take your pick. Whatever the case, for such people, and there are many, Torah living for Messianic Jews is “nice if that’s your style but don’t go overboard, and for sure, don’t lay this trip on anyone else." To the surprise no doubt of some reading this, the latter viewpoint is perhaps the most widespread.

Still, I feel obliged to teach this message of the return  to Torah living as a matter of Jewish covenantal responsibility and of divine intent . And like Paul in Romans 9-11, I am disturbed that what I expect to see happening is just not happening, except in unimpressive dribs and drabs. So what’s going on?

Last Tuesday night, during a lesson at my Beverly Hills Jewish Advantage Bet Midrash [Study Hall], Steve Goldsmith helped me to fill in the missing piece: the reason it is not happening now but is sure to happen sooner or later.

Bear with me while I describe the “It” for a few minutes, before I will fill you in on why it is not happening now but is sure to happen sooner or later.

First, what am I talking about here?  A recent lesson on the Interfaithfulness Facebook page helps to fill that in. I build a case from the Older Testament with seven components. I also have a Newer Testament argument for this, but that comes later. Here is the argument from the Older Testament.

I.    In Ex 24:1-8, we find ourselves at Sinai, shortly after the Jewish people have come out of Egypt. At Sinai, the people of Israel received the Torah and agreed to keep it. Notice what the people say in vv. 3 and 7 - Moses came and told the people all the words of the Lord and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the Lord has spoken we will do.” . . . . And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” So our first point is this: The Jewish people agreed as a people to obey God’s Torah.

II.  Deut 5:25-29 – It is thirty eight years later. Moses is about to die, and it is Joshua who will lead the people into the Land of Promise. On the plains of Moab, just before that time, Moses gives a series of addresses recapitulating Israel’s history, including telling the story of what happened at Sinai. Look what the text says:

These words the Lord spoke to all your assembly at the mountain out of the midst of the fire, the cloud, and the thick darkness, with a loud voice; and he added no more. And he wrote them on two tablets of stone and gave them to me. 23 And as soon as you heard the voice out of the midst of the darkness, while the mountain was burning with fire, you came near to me, all the heads of your tribes, and your elders. 24 And you said, ‘Behold, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live. 25 Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the Lord our God any more, we shall die. 26 For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived? 27 Go near and hear all that the Lord our God will say, and speak to us all that the Lord our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.’

28 And the Lord heard your words, when you spoke to me. And the Lord said to me, ‘I have heard the words of this people, which they have spoken to you. They are right in all that they have spoken. 29 Oh that they had such a heart as this always, to fear me and to keep all my commandments, that it might go well with them and with their descendants forever!

There are some who, due to their theological presuppositions about the impossibility of keeping the Law and a supposed antithesis between Law and Grace, suggest that the Jewish people were foolish to accept the obligation to obey. This is what the Scofield notes said in the original edition of the Scofield Bible. This text from Deuteronomy proves these critics to be in error: God did not consider the Israelites foolish, nor should we! It was a good thing for them to accept the obligations of Torah. But it was not about salvation! Keeping Torah is about two things: honoring God by obeying Him, and preserving holy conditions which make our lives and community a fit place for Him to dwell in our midst. A kind of sacred decorum. I will return to those ideas in subsequent blog posts.

III. Deut 29:10-15 – There on the plains of Moab the people renew the covenant—they review it and in a sense, re-enlist. But to whom does this obligation apply?

You are standing today all of you before the Lord your God: the heads of your tribes, your elders, and your officers, all the men of Israel, your little ones, your wives, and the sojourner who is in your camp, from the one who chops your wood to the one who draws your water, so that you may enter into the sworn covenant of the Lord your God, which the Lord your God is making with you today, that he may establish you today as his people, and that he may be your God, as he promised you, and as he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. It is not with you alone that I am making this sworn covenant, but with whoever is standing here with us today before the Lord our God, and with whoever is not here with us today.

Taking place roughly 38 years after Sinai, at the confirmation of the covenant on the plains of Moab, this text begins with a remarkably comprehensive breakdown of the various strata of the community who were present to confirm the Covenant. This text begins with the most detailed analysis of the layers of Jewish community to be found anywhere in the Bible. Yet the text mentions that it is not only those who were there that day who are bound by the covenant, but also those not there, whom commentators agree is all future generations of the people of Israel. All Jews are responsible to obey Torah, It is a holy responsibility Jews are born into. We may deny it, we may ignore it, we may be oblivious to it, but we cannot avoid it.

IV. In Deut 30:4-10 - God says that in the latter days, the people of Israel will be brought to covenant obedience.

4 If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. 5 And the LORD your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. 6 And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. 7 And the LORD your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you. 8 And you shall again obey the voice of the LORD and keep all his commandments that I command you today. 9 The LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, 10 when you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

V.  The prophets report that this national Jewish return to Torah will be the work of the Holy Spirit, renewing the people in Torah obedience.

From Ezekiel 36 - I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

VI. They also say that the Messiah will be involved in leading the Jewish people back to Torah obedience.

l be their prince forever.

VII.      So my questions for us today are these.

  • In the latter days (which we are living in now), the Jewish people will demonstrate their repentance toward God by returning to a Torah way of life. Many people speak about repentance, but few realize that Jewish repentance has a communal dimension and a specified shape. For the Jewish people, repentance is a return to covenant obedience. If such covenant obedience were but a remnant of bygone days, something old-time Jews did, how could we account for the widespread prophetic testimony to God’s calling Israel back to this at the time of the end?
  • If observing Torah is our legacy from the past, and if it is our destiny in the future, how can it not be our responsibility now?

And as I said at the beginning of this piece, if all of this is what is supposed to happen, where is it?  Where’s the beef?

In discussing these texts last night with my friend Steve, it all of a sudden hit me:  this is something the Holy Spirit, the Ruach HaKodesh will bring to pass. That is what the texts say, of God renewing our people, taking out the heart of stone and giving us a heart of flesh, of the Holy Spirit putting God’s Spirit within us causing s to walk in his statutes and be careful to obey his rules. The missing element is the work of the Holy Spirit. This end game of God’s is sure to come. There is no doubt about it. That it is not here today in power makes me frustrated, but I need not be discouraged. It is sure to happen. There will come a day when it will be hard if not impossible to find a Jew, including Messianic Jews, who are not zealous for Torah living, treating its pursuit as a matter of communal urgency. That may sound impossible to some of you, but I remember how in early 1970's, during the heyday of "Sex, Drugs and Rock and Roll," all of a sudden hundreds and then thousands of young people came to believe in Yeshua, including many Jews. This was unexplainable, really. But when God decides something is going to happen, "Whoops!  There it is!"

So I will continue talking about this from time to time, about the priority for Jews who believe in Yeshua to return to honoring God  through Torah living, even in the absence of the kind of response I crave. I will not be discouraged: the promise is sure, and the expeditor of that promise, wholly dependable.  Meanwhile I watch, and work, and wait—with eager anticipation. I suggest you join me. And lets be early adaptors--making those changes before everyone else does!


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One comment on “When It's Just Not Happening”

  1. Dear rav,
    I found your article really inspiring and your final reflection about the Spirit made me think about something I really would like to share with you.

    You showed how all the restoration prophecies point toward the Spirit as the one who will empower the people of Israel to obey Torah.

    To this, I would add the fact that this is true not only as far as the prophets are concerned but also AFTERWARDS, at the coming of the Spirit in Yerushalaim.
    In fact, the action of the same Spirit of Mashiah is not the same on Jews and non-Jews !

    First of all, if we look at the giving of the Torah to Israel (Chemot 19-20) we see that it presents striking similarities with the giving of the Spirit as described in Acts 2.
    In both events we see that our reception of the gift empowers us, Jews, to faithfully live out the life to which we are called, namely, a life of obedience to G-d through the Torah. It is this that will make us become light of the Nations.

    But to Gentiles, this same Spirit has a DIFFERENT effect, as it just breaks down the wall of hostility between Jews and non-Jews (Acts 10), with no mention to the Torah, at all. And it is rightly the fact that the Spirit came upon the Gentiles AS Gentiles that constitutes Peter’s argument they need not be required to obey all the mitsvot of the Torah (Acts 15).

    By this, we clearly see that while the Spirit’s presence among both Jews and Gentiles powerfully illustrates and actualizes G-d’s ever-expanding work in the world, it DOES NOR ERASE THE DISTINCTION – particularly with regard to stipulations of covenant faithfulness – between Jew and Gentile.

    Therefore : if the Spirit calls to Torah observance (not only by the prophets but also afterwards Yeshua’s atoning sacrifice), it is clear that our repentance can ONLY be in that sense. If we take another path we will not respond to our calling of the Spirit AS Jews, not even in a NT’s perspective.


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