As I was studying Ezekiel recently, I ran across an interesting couple of verses. They deal with the vengeful and spiteful heart of the Philistines against Israel. I was particularly struck by the use of the words “old hatred”, or “Ayvat Olam” in Hebrew. Here are the verses:
“‘Thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Because the Philistines dealt vengefully and took vengeance with a spiteful heart, to destroy because of the old hatred,’ therefore thus says the Lord GOD: ‘I will stretch out My hand against the Philistines, and I will cut off the Cherethites and destroy the remnant of the seacoast.” Ezekiel 25:15, 16
Old hatred results in so many dire consequences—the kind hatred that goes so far back, it’s hard to remember a time when it didn’t exist. In the case of the Philistines, the enmity went all the way back to the book of Exodus. By the time we get to the book of Judges, it was in full flower.
Notice that the “seacoast” is mentioned in the above verses. This is, of course, the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, and the territory it speaks of is Gaza, where the Philistines lived. It doesn’t take an archeological expert to point out that this is the same area as the northeastern end of today’s Gaza Strip. Gaza was conquered by the Israelites in about 1000 BCE. It was a part of the land promised to Abraham, but it became a part of the Assyrian empire in about 730 BCE. There were still Philistines who lived there at that time.
There is no way of knowing if the ancient Philistines still comprise some of the Palestinians who live in the Gaza Strip today. No one knows where the descendants of the ancient Philistines reside—or even if there are any of them left. We do know that many of the modern Palestinians are from the Arab peoples that populated various areas of the region. Although the word “Palestine” was named after the Philistines, it was actually used by the Romans in the second century—particularly Emperor Hadrian—to refer to the whole land of Israel, and was meant as a statement of disparagement about the conquered people of Israel. It seems even in those days, the world purposely refused to acknowledge Israel’s historical heritage and claim to her own land.
However, even if ancient Philistines don’t live in the Gaza strip, the leadership of those who do carry the same hatred for the Jewish people that the nations who surrounded them thousands of years ago did. It’s an old hatred, and it still exists today in the same regions where it existed when the Philistines ruled. It’s interesting that the terror group presently in power calls themselves Hamas. According to their charter, the name is an Arabic acrostic that translates as “Islamic Resistance Movement” in English. However, in Hebrew the word “Hamas” simply means violence—the kind of violence that stems from hatred. The word appears in Genesis 6:11.
“The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence.”
Before the flood, the thoughts of men’s hearts were wicked continually, and all their acts were based on hatred. This is an apt description of the irrational blind hatred in our day that desires to destroy all Jews and wipe Israel off the map. This is the old hatred, the hatred that Ezekiel tells us will bring judgment back on the heads of those who possess it. It’s the cursing hatred we hear daily from the United Nations. They often seem united about just one thing—their hatred of Israel. And it’s the cursing hatred described in Genesis 12:3.
“I will bless those who bless you, And I will curse him who curses you; And in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Many of those reading this blog are familiar with the concepts I have shared here, even if they aren’t familiar with the specific Ezekiel passage about the “old hatred.” But how many of us apply these truths in our own lives?
Yesterday, I went to the movie theater to see “Case For Christ,” the narrative film base on the life of apologist Lee Strobel. Without revealing any spoilers, I will just say that Strobel had to deal with some “old hatreds” during his journey from atheism to Biblical faith. How many of us have addressed such things in our lives? Are you still carrying “old hatred” against family members—fathers and mothers (even if they’re gone,) brothers and sisters, children? What about old wounds from friends whom you feel betrayed by, as Yeshua also did? Remember what he declared. “Father forgive them.”
If you happen to be reading this blog, I suspect that God may be dealing with you about that old Philistine hatred in your life—the kind of hatred can result in odd and irrational behavior, the kind we see exhibited by Hamas. Perhaps you thought you had nothing in common with that group. Think twice, and consider Yeshua’s words.
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of the fires of Gehenna.” Matthew 5:21, 22
As each day goes by, evidence of the link becomes more apparent. When it comes to Israel, the hotter things get politically, the more clear it becomes that G-d and his spiritual enemy Hasatan are waging a galactic battle that will culminate with Yeshua’s return on the Mount of Olives, as predicted in Zechariah 14:1-4. One only has to follow the pronouncements of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, or the Boycott Divest Sanction movement, to recognize the hostility toward Israel that is growing every day. Add to that the violence on Israeli streets, the pronouncements of Iran, Hezballah, Hamas and even the Palestinian Authority—along with the International threats to Jewish community centers and cemeteries—and the spiritual importance of the prophetic return to the Jewish homeland becomes…well…obvious.
On the positive side, I’ve always been amazed by Israel’s ongoing survival—and not only survival, but success—in the face of such opposition and outright hostility. Yes, she has her economic and security challenges. But she is also on the cutting edge of the high-tech fields in so many areas, including medical. Her impact on the agricultural world is astounding. The aid she extends to communities in crises worldwide is second to none—including even the U.S. And her military might is up there with ours as well. And of course she is, as many in our government have so often mentioned, the only democracy in the Middle East.
All of these extraordinary developments have occurred over a relatively short period of time. And during that same period, another amazing phenomenon has occurred—that is, the revival of the first clearly identifiable Messianic Jewish community expression since the first century. It’s not lost on me that the first century also was the last time Israel dwelled in her own land as a nation. Both of these prophetic realities occurred parallel time wise.
In regard to the Messianic Jewish revival, similar astonishing growth has occurred. There was a time not all that long ago when a Jewish believer might believe they were the only one in the world who believed Yeshua was the Messiah. Nowhere was that more true than in Israel. In the 1950s, there were just a few Messianic Jews there—although they were not called that back then—and most of those few felt alone as Jewish believers. Now, estimates of the number of Messianic Jews in Israel are somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000. Estimates worldwide range in the hundreds of thousands. In Israel, the Messianic Jewish community is often cited in the media. Many Messianic Jews serve with distinction in the military. They hold key positions in the legal, tech, medical and other fields. And now, there are political organizations and parties forming to advocate for Messianic Jews.
While discrimination against Messianic Jews remains in Israel and beyond, there is an increasing recognition in the Jewish press, and among a number of Jewish leaders that Messianic Jews are fully Jewish. In the past, this was rarely true. Articles in major Jewish publications and television reports usually refused to consider Messianic Jews as Jews. And they were usually negative. That is rapidly changing. At one time, New York’s Jewish Daily Forward included aggressive anti-missionaries among its staff writers. Now, positive articles are being written. And the Messianic Jewish community is being recognized as a helpful constituency in the battle to advocate for Israel in the face of a hostile world—and even at times hostile church structures. Here is a quote from a recent Jewish Daily Forward article.
“…raising awareness about anti-Semitism and advocating for Israel has been a part of [the messianic Jews’] mandate since the modern messianic Jewish movement coalesced in the 1960s. Messianics view Jews as divinely linked to the Land of Israel. For them, anti-Semitism is not just bigoted, but also an abomination.”
Many orthodox Jews contribute articles to the Forward, and are readers as well. There is an increasing awareness that we are here to stay, and may have something positive to contribute to the wider Jewish community and society as a whole.
The openness in Israel to Messianic Jewish humanitarian aid organizations has also greatly expanded. Organizations like the Joseph Project and the Joseph Storehouse are doing a great work, and are working hand in hand with Israeli agencies and governmental officials. Some of those officials have even spoken at major Messianic Jewish conferences.
As we approach the future, I believe that G-d’s hand will become ever clearer in Israel, the Jewish homeland, and in the Messianic community in Israel and worldwide. And we can expect an intersection of the two prophetic phenomena in Israel, as the Messianic community there continues to grow in numbers and influence.
Most historians believe that the Pharisees originated sometime after Israel’s return from the Babylonian Captivity. The group liked to trace their inception to Ezra, who, according to Nehemiah 8:8, gave the sense of the Torah’s meaning and helped the people to understand it. The group actually probably developed a bit later during the Second Temple period, but at any rate the motives of the Pharisees included a desire to put a “hedge around the Torah” with extra laws that protected the people from repeating the disobedience that brought about the Babylonian invasion and subsequent captivity.
Over the period of time that spanned from the second or third century BCE and continued through the rest of the Second Temple period, the Pharisees developed counsels to deliberate on the meaning and application of scripture, particularly from the Torah but also from the rest of the Tanach. These counsels, or sanhedrin, took on a more authoritative nature over the years. In time, the Pharisees claimed that the rabbis among them who oversaw these deliberations were the inheritors of the mantle of the Judges that are mentioned in Deuteronomy 16:18.
“You shall appoint judges and officers in all your gates, which the LORD your God gives you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with just judgment.” Deuteronomy 16:18
Therefore, although there is no office of rabbi mentioned in the Tanach, the Pharisees could now claim that theirs was a divinely ordained office instituted in the Torah. Over time, in order to further cement their claim to divine authority as the shepherds of Israel, as opposed to other groups—like the Sadducees, who were connected to the priesthood and Temple system—the Pharisees further claimed that the precedent of their decisions went all the way back to oral commands that had been handed down through the ages—from Moses, through Joshua, to others, and finally to them as Israel’s divinely appointed judges of what is right and proper and wrong and improper.
In one of the most famous texts in the Talmud, the “Oven of Achnai” account, the Pharisees clearly affirm their authority over Israel by pointing out that the wisdom of God on a matter is not revealed from heaven as a divine revelation, but by the majority opinion of the Pharisaic sanhedrin. This is expressed through a story about an oven, and whether it is kosher. The rabbi who advocates for it’s being kosher calls forth several miracles that conclude with a voice from heaven, a “Bat Kol.” But the rabbis vote the opposite way, and the story ends by expressing God’s approval that his people have “won Him over.”
The view that an authoritative oral Torah exists survived the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE. Yochanan Ben Zakkai, who was secreted out of Jerusalem in a casket and ended up in Yavneh, started a school there and perpetuated the oral Torah belief—and the Pharisaic or rabbinic authority associated with it. Not only do virtually all traditional Jews today subscribe to this belief (although Reform and Reconstructionist Jews may not take the divine origins as literally as some Conservative most Orthodox and Chabad Jews would,) but also some Messianic Jewish leaders subscribe to this belief. The problems with this are twofold.
First, as Jewish Voice Ministries founder Jonathan Bernis once said, we are either under the authority of the rabbis or Yeshua. Yeshua Himself spoke of problems associated with some of the Pharisaic decisions. And if there were sometimes problems, how could the “oral Torah” be divinely inspired and authoritative? Here is an example.
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, it is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obliged to perform it.’” Matthew 23:16
It must be pointed out that Yeshua supported a number of rabbinically sanctioned post biblical mechanisms for Torah observance that were the result of community consensus, like using wine sacramentally and the wearing of leather boxes as a literal interpretation of Deuteronomy 6:8. And he supported various other rabbinic teachings when they lined up with His Word. But He did not consider them part of a divinely ordained demand for how things must be observed.
Second, there are verses in Joshua that inform us conclusively that there is no such thing as an oral Torah, which was divinely given to Moses. Here they are.
“And afterward he [Joshua] read all the words of the law, the blessings and the cursings, according to all that is written in the Book of the Law. There was not a word of all that Moses had commanded which Joshua did not read before all the assembly of Israel, with the women, the little ones, and the strangers who were living among them.” Joshua 8:34, 35
This text tells us that everything Moses commanded was written down. It was all read by Joshua. None of it was transmitted orally by Moses, separate from what was written down.
In closing, I happen to believe that the Pharisaic belief in an oral law was more about politics than theology. Perhaps they had started out well as biblical interpreters in the mold of Ezra. However, like so many religious groups, power-based corruption eventually crept in. And if we are not careful as a Messianic movement that skewed understanding of the origins of rabbinic writings can impact us negatively as well. I urge the movement I value so much—the movement I’ve been serving for almost 40 years—to pay heed to what I’m sharing here, and to allow it to inform their Messianic Jewish experience.
This blog will mark the last of my essays on the hundred-year anniversary of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America. The three scripts below were used in three videos that were shown at the Messiah 2015 conference. They reflect three eras in the MJAA’s hundred-year history. Thanks to Dr. Robert Winer, Rabbi Joel Liberman, and Linda and Melissa Brown for their contributions. And thanks also to Rabbi Paul Liberman for narrating the videos.
One hundred years ago, a group of courageous men and women came together to form an alliance that would one day become the catalyst for the greatest spiritual revival among the Jewish people since the first century. Those present at the first conference developed a preamble to declare the purpose of this alliance. It stated in part that the Alliance was to “unite Jewish believers into a corporate testimony, and to urge upon them in the name of the Lord Yeshua to give up their minor differences.” Two years after the Alliance’s founding in 1915, Messianic pioneer Arthur Kuldell added, “The Alliance is not a lodge. It is not a society organized for the purpose of aiding its members to the exclusion of all others. It is an organization that breathes the spirit of Messiah. It is actuated by the tenderest love for Israel.” No truer words were ever spoken about the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America.
The small group that met for the first conference, at the Assembly Hall of the United Charities Building in New York City, would be thrilled to see the multitude that has come together this year from the United States and nations all over the world, including re-gathered Israel--something every one of them had a vision for. We honor them even as we, like they, have our eyes on the future, expecting great things in the coming years.
Over the past hundred years, the Jewish community worldwide has experienced the most horrible of tragedy and the greatest of triumph. The greatest, triumph, of course, was the re-establishment of the State of Israel, Mi-dee-nat Yisrael. The first leaders of the then called “Hebrew Christian Alliance of America” envisioned the modern State of Israel. The first general secretary, Mark John Levy, declared in 1917, “Judah is on the eve of restoration to Palestine, and many Jewish believers will return with our nation to the Holy Land.” All of the founders of the Alliance had a similar expectation, based on the Biblical promise.
Of course, Levy could not have imagined the horrors of the greatest tragedy of the last hundred years…the Holocaust. However approximately twenty years later, in 1938, Morris Zeidman, the general secretary of his day, recognized the coming storm. He wrote, “In Poland, Germany, and Austria, sorrow is turning to despair. They can see no hope, not a gleam of light or kindness anywhere. There was a time when Jews who were persecuted in one land could flee to another country, where they would be received with open arms. But today the world is closed to them.”
After Zeidman visited Poland and saw the situation first hand, every possible effort was made to assist in the rescue of Jews in peril. Many Jewish believers were given shelter, helped financially, and finally aided in emigration. The help continued until it was no longer possible to get people out. This humanitarian mission is a little known legacy of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America.
After World War Two, the “greatest generation”--the parents of the soon-to-be- called “baby boomers”--kept the candlestick of the Hebrew Christian Alliance burning. They prayed for revival through the late nineteen-forties and nineteen-fifties. A few were given a glimpse of what was just around the corner. One of those was Martin Chernoff, who together with his wife Yohanna, faithfully reached out through studies, small groups, and eventually congregational work. In 1948, the year Israel once again became a nation, he had a vision of thousands trees rustling with fruit. Years later, he saw a vast river of young people pouring into God’s kingdom, dressed in motley clothes. These visions all made sense when the Spirit of God fell upon Jewish young people in large numbers, beginning in 1968. A Young Alliance was quickly formed as soon as salvations began to add up, facilitated by Marty, along with Manny Brotman and Joe Finkelstein. In the early seventies, Marty and Yohanna’s children were swept up in the revival, along with thousands of other young people.
Then, some began to sense a stirring to start Messianic synagogues. Beth Messiah in Cincinnati was founded by the Chernoffs in 1971. Beth Messiah Washington followed suit in Washington, with Paul Liberman joining with others like Manny Brotman. And soon, congregations began to sprout up like mushrooms. At every MJAA conference, new leaders were raised up and new congregations founded. Later, in the early eighties, The International Alliance of Messianic Congregations and Synagogues, the IAMCS, was founded and helped facilitate this growth. The IAMCS trains rabbis and has a Yeshiva and a Rabbis Conference.
During this year’s Messiah conference, a number of you have heard about the many other ministries of the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America--the Joseph Project, the Messianic Jewish Israel Fund, The Ethiopian Outreach, and so forth. And this is just the beginning. God has promised much more--in the MJAA and all over the world--culminating in the greatest outpouring of His Spirit on the Jewish people in history….and the return of the Messiah.
When I’ve been attacked by that same spirit in a man or woman who has accused me, my wife, or my leadership team—and threatened to tear the flock apart—I have lain on my bed and heard Elijah’s depressed and desperate plea in my head.
“But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he prayed that he might die, and said, ‘It is enough! Now, LORD, take my life, for I am no better than my fathers!’” 1 Kings 19:4
If I were asked during those times if I loved being a Messianic Rabbi, I believe I would have said no. But then—like a ship in the distance, or a bolt out of the blue—a few miraculous things would occur. First, G-d would speak by His Spirit not only to me personally, but through his prophetically sensitive servants—just as He responded to Elijah through words as simple as, “Arise and eat.” I Kings 19:5
Next, He would stir up the original call in my heart, and place needy people in my path—just as he did with Elijah. In the final analysis, It’s not about us. That’s what we eventually come to love about rabbinical work. It’s about Him, and the people He has placed in our care. Sometimes the work is hard, especially when some of those people are resisting the very heart of G-d in us on their behalf.
“Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” Hebrews 13:17
But even when the work is hard, there is grace for every shepherd-hearted person who sticks with it. My advice to newer rabbis is to press into your call when things get tough. There is great turnover in pastoral work. Our spiritual enemy wants to chew us up and spit us out. He will seek to embitter us, and divert our attention from the One who can use the tough situations—and people—to prune us and mature our leadership, if we will respond to the challenges as loving discipline intended to mature us as shepherds.
“For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin. And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.’” Hebrews 12:3-6
It’s not so much what we go though, but how we respond to what what go through, that matters most. When I look back over all of the years of ministry, I see His miraculous hand bringing me through and causing me to stand after the tough spiritual battles. To quote Steven Sondheim, “I’m still here.” Or to put it another way,
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.” Ephesians 6:12, 13
After all these years—with all the incredible victories in the lives of those I’ve worked with—and all the battles with spiritual forces working through those HaSatan has held captive—and yes, all the times I’ve experienced temporary set-backs defeats—I can truly say that I love rabbinical work. And I would answer that call all over again if it were presented to me afresh. It’s all been worth it. And I will continue obeying that call until He shows me that it’s time to lay it down. Hopefully, someday I will hear Him say, “Well one, My good and faithful servant.”
However, we were not called to stay in Philadelphia. We were called to move to Cincinnati. Yet, although I was well aware that we were in the middle of God’s will, I always envied the childhood education aspect of Beth Yeshua, and I wished my children could be a part of it.
Now, these many years later, I am aware that some of the young people who graduated from Chalutzim have indeed gone on with the Lord, and yet some haven’t. And some have stayed with Messianic Judaism, while others have stuck with the Lord but ended up in churches. The same dynamic has occurred at Beth Messiah in Cincinnati, since we have experienced growth and developed a solid Shabbat school and youth group ministry—as well as a Club Maccabee scouting ministry. Some have gone on with the Lord after high school, and some haven’t. And some who have gone on with the Lord have stuck with Messianic involvement, while many haven’t. We have prayed about this phenomenon, and strategized about it. Our success has been limited.
Now we are watching an even more pronounced pattern in the millennial generation. It’s a double-edged sword. On the positive side, a number of young people throughout the country—as well as in our own synagogue—have chosen to continue to walk with Yeshua during their post high school years. This is partly the result of the moving of the Spirit not only locally, but also nationally, through youth conferencing and retreats. On the negative side, many of these young millennials—who comprise the ages of approximately between nineteen through thirty—have chosen to either not attend anywhere, or to attend churches in the college towns where they live. This is often true even when there is a valid Messianic Jewish synagogue alternative.
There may be many reasons for this reality. For one thing, I believe that the number of college level peers in the church may play a role. In addition, the prioritization of a wider American and even Christian youth cultural experience may be a factor. And there may be other reasons. Whatever the reasons, I would like to point out some Biblical/historical realities that I hope will at least become thoughts for Millennials to consider.
First, I believe that a Messianic Jewish identity and connection is God’s answer to the anti-Semitic lie of replacement theology—the Church belief that God has rejected his promises to Israel, and that the the Church is the “new Israel.”. In Acts 21, when James met Paul, he informed him that some Jews believed Paul was communicating this lie, and they were spreading this false rumor. That lie still exists to this day—not only in the Jewish community, but in actual Church teaching. Verse 21 tells us.
“…they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.” Acts 21:21
And what was James’s remedy? Verses 23-24 inform us.
“Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow. Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law.” Acts 21:23, 24
Paul’s adherence to a Messianic Jewish identity proved that replacement theology was a lie. In today’s world, when so many even in the Church are marking up the miraculous return of Jews to the land of Israel as happenstance—or even worse, colonialization and oppression of Arabs by the West—the testimony of Jews who have returned to their Messiah as Jews (as well as others in the Messianic community who identify with the peoplehood of Israel), is essential to combat the lie that God has forsaken his covenant promises to Israel.
In addition, personal journeys that include a Messianic Jewish identity make a huge statement about the Messiahship of Yeshua to the wider Jewish community. Just a quick perusal of the imetmessiah.com Youtube videos, released recently by One For Israel, provides evidence for this.
There are other reasons for Messianic millennials to come home. Space does not permit me to list them all. But they all add up to this. The Messianic Jewish movement needs Messianic millennials who step into their calling and fulfill their Messianic Jewish destiny. I humbly ask that each millennial who has been raised in the Messianic movement consider the points I am making and pray about identifying more directly as a part of the Messianic Jewish community.
“Yeshua answered [Nicodemus] and said to him, ‘Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?’”
He was speaking about the necessity for a spiritual rebirth. He had been responding to a statement by Nicodemus in which he recognized the spiritual credentials of Yeshua, based on the signs and wonders He performed. As was often the case, Yeshua didn’t directly respond to Nicodemus’ generous comment. Instead, he took things in a completely different direction, actually challenging Nicodemus’ spiritual credentials in the third verse of the chapter.
“Yeshua answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’”
Nicodemus didn’t quite get it—hence Yeshua’s question a bit later in the text.
So why should the rabbis know about these things? And why should they teach them? I will say that I’m a personal witness to the fact that they don’t. I never heard the concept of the spiritual rebirth until Manny Brotman shared it with me in the summer of 1970. I had been to the finest Jewish institutions in my city—Hebrew school, Jewish day school, religious summer camp—and I’d never heard that I must be “born again,” as Yeshua put it. No one ever taught that to me. And I guess the question isn’t, “Why didn’t they teach it to me?” The question is, “From where were they supposed to learn it?”
The answer to that question, of course, is, in the Tanach—the Jewish scriptures commonly referred to as The Old Testament. A cursory study of the scriptures reveals a number of instances where a spiritual rebirth is described. There are too many examples to site all of them. So I will just mention a few of them.
First, there are a few places where a miraculous heart change is described. Sometimes, the description takes the form of a circumcision. Here is as example.
“And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.” Deuteronomy 30:6
Notice that an act of God results in a new birth of love in our hearts.
In this next example, a new heart is given the individual, along with the indwelling of God’s Sprit, producing the same result—one of a new life lived for God.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.” Ezekiel 36:26, 27
That scripture certainly describes a new life—actually a new rebirth of life.
The next verses are from the Shabbat Shuva Haftorah reading. Shabbat Shuva is the Shabbat between the High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
“I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, For My anger has turned away from him. I will be like the dew to Israel; He shall grow like the lily, And lengthen his roots like Lebanon. His branches shall spread; His beauty shall be like an olive tree, And his fragrance like Lebanon.” Hosea 14:4-6
This verse certainly describes that which was fruitless and barren now coming to life—to new life. The next verse, verse 7, uses the term “Revive,” “Chayu” in the plural, literally “bring to life.”
“Those who dwell under his shadow shall return; They shall be revived like grain, And grow like a vine. Their scent shall be like the wine of Lebanon.” Hosea 14:7
No wonder Yeshua expected Nicodemus to know about spiritual rebirth.
This last example is one of my favorite examples. It’s mentioned in the account of the little boy Samuel hearing from God for the first time as he is lying down in the room that has been prepared for him in the Temple. He thinks the high priest, Eli, is calling him from the next room, when it’s actually the Lord. Then we read these verses.
“Then the LORD called yet again, ‘Samuel!’ So Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, ‘Here I am, for you called me.’ He answered, ‘I did not call, my son; lie down again.’ (Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, nor was the word of the LORD yet revealed to him.)” 1 Samuel 3:6, 7
It’s interesting that the text describes Samuel as not yet knowing the Lord. None of us, even the great prophet Samuel, are born knowing the Lord. We must experience a rebirth to that knowledge. That rebirth did end up occurring with Samuel, as God revealed himself to him and he opened his heart to receive Him. We often use that same language today when we describe our rebirth. We say things like, “I came to know the Lord ten years ago,” or “That was before I knew the Lord.” We are referring to our spiritual rebirth.
No wonder Yeshua asked that penetrating question, “Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things?” And no wonder he spent the next several verses describing that spiritual rebirth to Nicodemus—crowning the explanation with the glorious sixteenth verse.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
Victorian inventions are defined as devices that were invented during the period roughly matching the lifespan of England’s Queen Victoria, who was born in 1819 and died in 1901. Most historians also include the first decade of the twentieth century.
The three Victorian inventions that have fascinated me the most are the phonograph, the airplane, and the automobile. I have built models of all three, drawn pictures of all three (Just so you know, I’m not a great illustrator or fine artist, but I enjoy doodling when I’m at meetings), and studied the history of all three ad nauseam. What has attracted me to these three inventions, and Victorian inventions as a whole—whether the motion picture camera, the telephone, the light bulb—or of course, Mergenthaler’s Linotype machine, which Edison called the eighth wonder of the world? After thinking about it, I would have to say that there are four things I love about all of these inventions—their simplicity, their beauty, their durability, and their testability. And these four attributes just happen to match four attributes about my Messianic Jewish faith. Let me explain.
The original models of all three of inventions mentioned above have simplicity in common. I’ve often said that the 1877 phonograph could have been invented in the first century. It consists of a mouthpiece with a vibrating diaphragm and a needle underneath it that inscribes those vibrations on a cylinder covered with foil. Then the indentations are just played back. You can check out my working model at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BTM3qzD3Zuw or https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBOoy6jeBI8 All Edison cylinder and disc phonographs, Columbia Graphophones, and Victor Victrola Gramophones worked like this until 1925, when electrical recording was added. As a child, I could never get over the simplicity. It always amazed me that I could hear my voice after I screamed Edison’s nursery rhyme choice into it. It’s just about the simplest Victorian invention there is. And it was Edison’s favorite—especially because it worked the first time. And so did my reception of the Good News, upon coming to God in repentance and faith. The Good News is so simple. I deserve the consequences of my sinful straying—separation from God—and He has provided a substitute on my behalf (Isaiah 53:6.) It’s so simple, although it’s also quite profound. Maybe that’s why Rabbi Saul warns the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 11:3, “But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in the Messiah.” 2 Corinthians 11:3
It was the beauty of these inventions that motivated me to draw crude pictures and build models of them. As a child I in particular loved building plastic models of early automobiles—the adorable 1904 Curved Dash Olds in dark red with gold headlights, the ever popular Ford Model T—of course in black—the 1912 Cadillac with the brand new invention of the self-starter. Beautiful is the only way I can describe these cars. I love to go to car museums where I can gaze at their majestic Victorian beauty. And I love to go to the house of God, where I can gaze at His far more splendid beauty. As Psalm 27:4 states, “One thing I have desired of the LORD, that will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD All the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD, and to inquire in His temple.”
Every time I see a working model of a Victorian invention, I am always impressed with it’s durability. Several museums and some printing companies have working models of Linotype machines. In spite of the many working parts involved, a reliable result can pretty much always be expected. From the letter matrices flowing down channels as the words are typed, to the final hot metal slugs of sentences that are the result of the machine’s work, the results are still impressive. Most Victorian inventions are quite durable, as opposed to much of the electronic equipment available in today’s world, computer and otherwise. A Victrola manufactured in 1917 by the oddly named (by today’s standards) Victor Talking Machine Company of Camden, New Jersey, and found in a local antique store, would probably be in the kind of working condition it was in when it was brand new. Just put a steel needle on the reproducer, throw the record on the turntable, wind the crank, and listen to the latest—in 1917, that is—foxtrot recording. Similarly, God’s word is durable. Verses like the well known faith verse in Hebrews 11 sound as fresh and relevant today as they did in the day they were written. Just listen to the ancient yet up-to-date words.
“But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
As Chapter 13, verse 8 from the same book states, “Yeshua HaMashiach is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
Finally, I love how testable the Victorian inventions were. Amateur bicycle mechanics the Wright Brothers staked their lives on the testability of their major invention, the airplane. Their construction of another Victorian invention around the turn of the twentieth century, the wind tunnel, assured the safe testing of full sized manned gliders and powered aircraft. How I love the pictures of their test glider flights, particularly the one taken on October 10th, 1902, when Wilber—who had been up all night brainstorming—connected the turning of the rudder to the wing warping, and ended up with the first fully controllable flight involving all four axes. That is a historic photograph! And their hands on trials serve as great spiritual examples for us today. That’s because every word of God is tested (Proverbs 30:5.) So He encourages us to perform our own tests, discovering as we do that we can soar on wings of eagles. Malachi 3:10 provides a great example.
“‘Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,’ Says the LORD of hosts, ‘If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.’” Malachi 3:10
I love Victorian Inventions. And now you know why. They remind me of our great creator and his marvelous creation.
I had seen this man from time to time over the years, as his daughter is very active in our synagogue. And I knew some things about him before visiting his that day—for instance, that he was somewhat agnostic, believing that there is no life beyond this one. I also knew that all of his children are believers, and that he has heard the message of Yeshua many times over the years (actually, the name Jesus instead of Yeshua, as he is not from a Jewish background.) But time and time again, he has not wanted to discuss the subject, or receive prayer.
On this day, I learned other things. I learned that he was raised on a farm, and that he served in World War Two—but he didn’t see any action. I had wondered whether some trauma related to his service might have convinced him against the possibility of a loving caring personal God. But that was not the case. I also learned that he had a pragmatic respect for Bible, and its emphasis on morality, summed up in the “Love your neighbor as yourself” decree. Therefore, he gave his children Bibles when they were small, and encouraged their participation in religious education. He sought to live a moral life himself, and made some very positive decisions in his life that were reflected in the lives of his children. But he had never trusted that God was there for him, or come to him for forgiveness and relationship—though he certainly knew his life had been less than perfect.
After we talked for a while, discussing subjects like his encouragement for his children to receive a Biblical education—and his pragmatic reasons for it—he finally admitted something that he had been struggling with over the years, and that no minister (and there were many of them) was able to help him with. It’s something that any number of people struggle with, and it keeps some from trusting God. He looked at me, and spoke from his heart.
“If Jesus is the way to God, as He said He is, and those who don’t believe in Him are out of luck, then what about all of those who have never heard?”
When he said this, I realized that there are things that I have been studying that might be worth telling him. Not everyone might agree with these things, but I do believe they are Biblical. And they don’t conflict with the need for a spiritual rebirth, and the atoning work of Yeshua which leads to life eternal. Here’s some of what I shared.
“Yeshua has universal reach. He can reveal Himself to anyone who is seeking. Most often, His Spirit stirs and convicts through His word as it is shared through others. But God is constantly at work in human hearts and minds all over the world. There are two matching verses—one in the Tanach, and one in the New Covenant—that reveal something about how God can reach those from any culture in the world who are walking in the light they have, by moving Heaven and Earth to reveal more light to them. The verse in the Tanach is Psalm 50:23.
‘He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me; And to him who orders his way aright I shall show the salvation of God.’
The word ‘orders’ is literally ‘puts’, and the word ‘way’ means ‘path’—which adds up to choosing a right path over a wrong one—or basically, repenting. The word ‘show’ is literally ‘to cause to see.’ And the word ‘salvation’ is basically ‘Yeshua.’ So if anyone cries out for a change from his or her sinful ways—and the sinful ways of the society that he or she might live in—and turns to the God (who is perhaps unknown to that person) for answers, He will go out of His way to reveal Yeshua and His forgiveness to that person.
The other matching verse is John 7:17.
“If anyone chooses to do God’s will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” John 7:17
So when a heart wants to love God and one’s neighbor, and recognizes its own shortcomings, that heart is in line to receive a revelation of the Messiah. In my view, we must sow the seed of God’s word with the expectation that it will land on soil that has been broken up in this way—or is being broken up—and is ready to receive. Here are another two verses from the Tanach and New Covenant that speak to this: Hosea 10:12, and Matthew 13:23.
‘Sow for yourselves righteousness; Reap in mercy; Break up your fallow ground, For it is time to seek the LORD, Till He comes and rains righteousness on you.’
‘But he who received seed on the good ground is he who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and produces: some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.’
We must respond to God’s light in our lives when we are confronted with that light, by receiving the light in the Person of the Messiah and Savior Yeshua—and then spreading that light. And we must leave the ‘unreached in our eyes’ in the hands of a just and merciful God. That includes family members who are gone.”
I told the man one other thing. Others may have told him he needed to recognize he was a sinner, and that he needed to repent. That is true and very Biblical. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” as Romans 3:23 states. But I felt it was also necessary to tell him that God saw his heart for justice and right moral choices and cared about that, just as God saw Cornelius’ works of love before he revealed Yeshua to him through Peter.
“And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, ‘What is it, lord?’ So he [the angel] said to him, ‘Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God. Now send men to Joppa, and send for Simon whose surname is Peter.’” Acts 10:4, 5
I don’t think anyone had ever told him anything like that before, let alone the other things I shared with him. His heart opened up. And to my surprise, this man—who had always refused to pray or be prayed for—asked if I would pray for and with him. We prayed for Yeshua to meet his need spiritually.
God reaches each life where they are. And he wants us to know that he is at work in the world—the whole world—and that the message of Yeshua is close to all those who hunger for truth. These truths made all the difference for one man in a hospice care center.
“And whoever falls on this stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder.” Matthew 21:44
The first part of the verse reminds me of words spoken to Joshua the High Priest by the Angel of the L-rd.
“And the L-RD said to Satan, ‘The L-RD rebuke you, Satan! The L-RD who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is this not a brand plucked from the fire?’” Zechariah 3:2
The breaking referred to in the Matthew 21 verse is obviously an act of mercy. I see it as a rescue from the destructive heart that needs breaking in order to heal. The grinding, on the other hand, is an act of irreversible judgment.
As startling as this verse was to me when I first read it, I now realize that it is not an unusual expression—that is, coming from the G-d of Israel. From the first pages of the Torah and running through all of scripture, He speaks of extremities—of extreme mercy and extreme judgment. Although He pours out mercy on the wicked and the good alike, in the final analysis He presents a darkness versus light scenario. Hers’s just a few familiar verses from the Torah.
“…for I, the LORD your G-d, am a jealous G-d, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.” Deuteronomy 5:9, 10
“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Daniel 12:2
“I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” Genesis 12:3
This last verse is particularly relevant to the portion in the Torah known as Balak, which is read in the synagogues this coming week. The text is taken from Numbers 22:2 to Numbers 25:9. In the portion, Balak, the king of Moab, hires the prophet Balaam to curse Israel. The money he offers makes the task particularly attractive to Balaam. However, the matter becomes complicated. G-d will not allow Balaam to fulfill the responsibility he was hired for. Everything—from a divine rebuke to a stubborn donkey—forces him to disobey Balak’s orders several times and to bless Israel instead. In fact, he ends up speaking forth two of the most gloriously beautiful sets of verses in scripture—one about Israel, and the other about her Messiah.
“How lovely are your tents, O Jacob! Your dwellings, O Israel! Like valleys that stretch out, Like gardens by the riverside, Like aloes planted by the L-RD, Like cedars beside the waters.” Numbers 24:5, 6
“I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near; A Star shall come out of Jacob; A Scepter shall rise out of Israel, And batter the brow of Moab, And destroy all the sons of tumult. And Edom shall be a possession; Seir also, his enemies, shall be a possession, While Israel does valiantly. Out of Jacob One shall have dominion, And destroy the remains of the city.” Numbers 24:17-19
When all was said and done, Balaam only blessed Israel. He did not curse her. Based on the Genesis 12:3 verse, this should have resulted in extreme blessing in his life. But this is not what occurred. In Number 31:8, we discover that he was killed in battle. And in 2 Peter 2:15, we read this:
“They have forsaken the right way and gone astray, following the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness.”
So why wasn’t Balaam blessed as a result of blessing Israel? I believe it was because his heart was not intent on blessing her. In fact, he was highly motivated to curse her for money. When it comes to the extremes resulting from responses to G-d’s purposes and principles, a “Sermon on the Mount”-like heart intent and focus is important. We shouldn’t play games with things that are so dear to the heart of G-d. He is not mocked. Heart repentance and a resulting heart after His are important parts of our response to Him.
Speaker David Reagan shared recently that just before Israel became a state in 1948, Secretary of State George Marshall advised President Harry Truman not to recognize her because of our need for Arab oil. Truman rejected that advice and recognized Israel. Many believed he did that to win Jewish votes in the coming election—a less than admirable reason to bless Israel. But when he was asked about it, he said that he wasn’t interested in oil, he was interested in doing what was right. Truman was a child prodigy and had read the entire Bible by the time he was six years old. He was a believer, and he knew what was right—and about the Genesis 12:3 verse.
When a person accepts Yeshua as their Messiah and Savior—and chooses the light of his mercy and grace over the darkness of this world’s system—he discovers the extreme grace of the Psalm 118:22 “stone that the builders rejected” over the stone of judgment that is mentioned in Daniel 2:35.
“Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver, and the gold were crushed together, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; the wind carried them away so that no trace of them was found. And the stone that struck the image became a great mountain and filled the whole earth.”
The stone is the same. Our response to that stone makes an extreme difference.