Controversies Involving Torah-Based “Means of Grace” – April 2018 OIM News


Update

April 2018

For those Israel lovers and students of history who are paying attention, the 5th of Iyyar on the Jewish calendar, which coincides with the 18th of April on the Gregorian calendar in 2018, is Yom HaAtzma’ut or Israeli Independence Day. As expected, a number of Israeli national celebrations will take place at this time, but because today’s world more widely follows the western Gregorian calendar, May 14, 2018 will be more prominently recognized as the seventieth anniversary of the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. Hence in this season of remembrance, Yom HaZikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) on the 17th of April and Yom Yerushalayim (Jerusalem liberation day) on the 13th of May, there are about four weeks of coincidental anniversaries and commemorations, which should remind followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that He alone is the God of history and current human affairs. However, notable “coincidences” are not overlooked by the discerning Bible student.

Correspondingly, Believers who utilize the Holy Scriptures as one critical grid for observing world events keep a keen eye on what happens to the Promised Land (Israel), the Jewish people, and Jerusalem, in particular. After all, the inheritors of Zion will always be the “apple of God’s eye” (Zechariah 2:8), as each critical clock-like pendulum tick, directs the world toward the End of the Age. In addition, the Holy One of Israel, the Creator God, has directly stated that He has placed His Name on Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 6:5-6; Exodus 20:24; Zechariah 2:12). Thus, when anticipated significant events—such as moving the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in conjunction with the seventieth anniversary on May 14, 2018—the Body of Messiah should be in intercessory prayer, thankful jubilation, and praise that the promised blessings of Genesis 12:3 will be bestowed upon America for its stalwart support of the modern State of Israel.

Historically speaking, God raises up different individuals or nations at various times to advance His will on Earth, to bless or to curse, depending on how they act toward the Jewish people. Thankfully for most of American history, most governmental leaders have stood by the Jewish people. President Truman was the first national leader to recognize Israel when it declared statehood seventy years ago. As a result, God has blessed the United States, today the only remaining superpower on the planet. But such blessing should never be taken for granted, because God’s thoughts and ways are much higher than human genius or comprehension (Isaiah 55:8-9).

With God’s higher ways in mind, while studying the relatively modern history of the reconstitution of the State of Israel, and the return of the Jewish people to the Promised Land—one comes upon the prophetic conclusions of Anglican clergyman William Hechler, one person who God used to help Austro-Hungarian Jewish journalist Theodor Herzl promote his vision for a Jewish State in the late 1890s. Ironically, most students of the Holy Scriptures have been exposed to a considerable number of interpretations of Bible prophecies, which are nothing more than educated guesses on when the end-times are coming or when the Messiah is going to return. Inaccuracies and false predictions are commonplace, but God still uses incorrect eschatology to accomplish His purposes.

Hechler loved the Jewish people and was an ardent student of the Bible, when his path crossed with Herzl, who had written Der Judenstaat or The Jewish State, detailing a vision for a homeland for the persecuted Jews of Europe. Coincidentally by the time they became acquainted, Hechler had surmised from his study of the Scriptures that God had promised to restore the Jews to the Holy Land, as seen in these conclusions about the forty-two month period referenced in the Books of Daniel and Revelation:

excerpted from The Prince and The Prophet by Claude Duvernoy

THE BIBLICAL FORTY-TWO MONTHS

But how to interpret the forty-two months? Most scholars of that time agreed that one prophetic month was not thirty days but thirty years—which comes out to 1260 years. It is a number that appears both in Daniel and Revelation. So, the Temple was destroyed and taken from the Jews in 70 A.D. Add 1260 years and the year is 1330—a dead end as nothing happened in 1330.

But Daniel 12:11 also states that the 1,290 days [or years] will start after the abomination of desolation is set up in the holy place (where the Temple was.) So what is this abomination?

In 627-628, Jerusalem fell into the hands of a pagan power: Islam, under its third Caliph—Omar, Mohammed’s brother-in-law. He not only took possession of Jerusalem; he razed the medieval Christian church built on the “Holy Place,” and built the Mosque of Omer to the glory of the prophet. Hechler surely knew that in this mosque there is written the Koranic verses including “God has no Son.”

If one adds 1260 years to the year 627-628, he comes to 1897-1898. Hechler was convinced that 1897-1898 would mark the dawn of the final restoration of Israel in the Promise Land!

No, he was not announcing either the End of the Age, or the Second Coming. But what he did announce was the starting point of the ultimate restoration of the people of Israel to the Land of Israel.

Note in Hechler’s conclusions that around the time he was helping Herzl (mid 1890s), he was convinced that the final restoration of Israel was beginning. So regardless of whether Hechler was one-hundred percent accurate with his deductions, God used him to help encourage Herzl to organize the First Zionist Congress convened in Basel, Switzerland from August 29-31, 1897. In addition, through Hechler’s strategic relationships, he was able to introduce Herzl to key royalty and government officials in Germany, Turkey, and Great Britain. As a result, the prophetic statement of Herzl written in his journal on September 3, 1897, has an amazing amount of accuracy about the timing of the formation of the State of Israel:

Were I to sum up the Basel Congress in a word—which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly—it would be this: At Basel I founded the Jewish State. If I said this out loud today l would be greeted by universal laughter. In five years perhaps, and certainly in fifty years, everyone will perceive it.”

Now without getting into all of the suppositions about the “jubilee” years, and the fact that from 1897-1898 to 1947-1948 is fifty or so years, or from 1917 (Balfour Declaration) to 1967 (liberation of Jerusalem after Six Day War) is fifty years, and from 1967 to 2017-2018 is another fifty years—theories and suppositions can go any of several directions, just like they did in Hechler’s studies. But the point is that God is active in the minute affairs of humanity, and He absolutely accomplishes His will for the created order, regardless of who He uses. God can use an obscure journalist (Herzl), an eccentric clergyman (Hechler), a member of the British Parliament (Balfour), or members of the Jewish Agency, when led by David Ben-Gurion declared independence on May 14, 1948 after the British Mandate expired.

Personally, having been to the unimpressive room in a converted home in Tel Aviv where the Israeli Declaration of Independence was declared on May 14, 1948, the humble irony of the leaders of modern day Israel claiming their rightful place among the nations of the world is awesome to contemplate. In fact, those inauspicious and humble beginnings are somewhat reminiscent of an ancient prophecy from Zechariah about Israel’s king entering Jerusalem humbly on a donkey:

“Rejoice greatly, daughter of Zion! Shout, daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you, a righteous one bringing salvation. He is lowly, riding on a donkey—on a colt, the foal of a donkey” (Zechariah 9:9, TLV).

Of course this prophecy was fulfilled by the Messiah, as He entered into Jerusalem prior to His trial, humiliation, beating, and execution:

“The next day, the huge crowd that had come up for the feast heard that Yeshua was coming to Jerusalem. So they took palm branches and went out to meet Him, shouting, ‘“Hoshia-na! Baruch ha-ba b’shem Adonai! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” The King of Israel!’ Finding a young donkey, Yeshua sat on it, as it is written, ‘Fear not, Daughter of Zion! Look! Your King is coming, sitting on a donkey’s colt.’ His disciples did not understand these things at first. But when Yeshua was glorified, then they remembered that these things were written about Him and that the crowd had done these things for Him” (John 12:12-16, TLV).

As we consider these things, both God’s people and people of the world at large, are going to one day more fully understand what is transpiring in this current “season of coincidences” regarding the timing of Israeli anniversaries, Biblical jubilees, or whatever other measure one uses to try and comprehend the mind and thoughts of the Sovereign Maker. While seventy years of existence is a remarkable achievement for the State of Israel and should be celebrated, Moses’ only recognized Psalm adds yet another “time” component to speculation about the unknowable timeline regarding the End of the Age known only by our Heavenly Father (Matthew 24:3, 36):

“For all our days have passed away under Your wrath. We spent our years like a sigh. The span of our years is seventy—or with strength, eighty—yet at best they are trouble and sorrow. For they are soon gone, and we fly away. Who knows the power of Your anger? Your fury leads to awe of you. So teach us to number our days, so that we may get a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:9-12, TLV).

Yes Lord, let us present you a heart of wisdom, as we praise, worship, and glorify your Holy Name—no matter what our individually roles and assignments are to help advance your Kingdom here on Earth! Make us available vessels, because You alone are able to work through us…

Chag Samaech Yom HaAtzma’ut

Mark Huey


Controversies Involving Torah-Based “Means of Grace”

by J.K. McKee

While it is unfortunate to have to say this, some of the biggest controversies which face the contemporary Messianic movement today, involve misunderstandings of various outward actions and activities—which are intended to bless, and not divide—the people of God. Whether we want to admit it or not, as an emerging faith community, today’s Messianic movement has areas of its theology and practice which are under-developed, or which involve applications limited to a local congregation or assembly, dependent on a group’s circumstances. People can inappropriately assume, at times, that “one size fits all,” when in fact, some things might instead need to be examined on a case-by-case basis.

In my own life, I have been personally involved in planning the funeral of my father (1992) and the wedding of my sister (2015). It is fairly easy to recognize that in planning a funeral or a wedding, that the needs of the immediate family, the larger extended family, and the friends involved, need to be taken into consideration. While the basic rituals of remembering the deceased and burying the remains, and the recitation of marriage vows and a celebration of a new couple joining together, remain consistent for a funeral or for a wedding—every funeral and every wedding have things requested by the family, which the spiritual leader officiating has to take into consideration. Consequently, a number of the divisive issues involving Torah-based means of grace, are those which precisely concern a consultation between families and their local Messianic congregational leader. And if necessary, we should be honest enough as people who compose a still-developing Messianic movement, to recognize those areas where further study and investigation are required.

Bar/Bat Mitzvah

How many people really know what the discipline of going through bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah, truly is? Many have the impression, based on portrayals in popular culture, that a bar mitzvah is just an opportunity to have a party, showering a thirteen year old boy or girl with endless gifts, somehow intended for their future. While various festivities may be involved with the commemoration of a bar mitzvah, the discipline and procedures of going through a bar mitzvah—especially within today’s Jewish community—are quite serious and even rigorous.

The term bar mitzvah means “son of the commandments,” with bat mitzvah meaning “daughter of the commandments.” The exact origins of the more modern process of a Jewish youth going through bar mitzvah are unclear. The workbook Messianic Judaism Class, in answering the question “Is this custom a Biblical command?”, answers, “It’s a part of Jewish tradition since the 13th century. It’s an extra-Biblical tradition that is not forbidden by Biblical teaching.”[1] mong the different reasons it lists for the significance of bar or bat mitzvah, include: a rite of passage, boyhood to manhood and girlhood to womanhood, acceptance of personal responsibility of oneself before God, learning Hebrew, learning to be a leader, identification with Judaism and the faith community. The bar/bat mitzvah process typically involves a recognition, for a young man or woman (usually 13 for boys, 12 for girls), that he or she is about to enter into adulthood.

Within the Jewish community, the process of going through bar/bat mitzvah involves Hebrew education, study of Jewish history and culture, and a review of the responsibilities that a Jewish man or woman will have as he or she enters into adulthood, and takes up some place within congregational life. At the bar/bat mitzvah ceremony, the young person who has completed his or her required classes, will often cant from the Hebrew Torah portion, and give a short teaching. As the young man or young woman is formally recognized as an adult before the assembly, he or she not only is to be committed to a life of service to God and the Jewish people, but the corporate body too has a responsibility of being there to support these young people. While it is traditional for those going through bar/bat mitzvah to be teenagers, adults well into their seventies and eighties have gone through bar/bat mitzvah.

While many of the traditions and procedures associated with bar/bat mitzvah originate from post-Second Temple times, Jewish history does record the need for young people to be trained in the Scriptures, and be recognized as members of the spiritual community. The First Century historian Josephus recorded, “when I was a child, and about fourteen years of age, I was commended by all for the love I had to learning; on which account the high priests and principal men of the city came then frequently to me together, in order to know my opinion about the accurate understanding of points of the law” (Life 1.9).[2] The authors of Messianic Judaism Class, referencing Yeshua’s encounter at the Temple in Luke 2:41-43, 46-49, conclude, “Yeshua is doing what we do at a Bar Mitzvah. The boy or girl reads that week’s passage and then they do a little teaching from it.”[3] As it was recorded of the young Yeshua:

“Now His parents were going every year to Jerusalem for the Passover feast. When He became twelve years old, they were going up according to festival custom. As they headed home after completing the days, the boy Yeshua remained in Jerusalem, but His parents didn’t know…After three days they found Him in the Temple, sitting in the center of the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. And all those hearing Him were astonished at His understanding and His answers. When His parents saw Yeshua, they were overwhelmed. And His mother said to Him, ‘Child, why did you do this to us? Look! Your father and I were searching for You frantically!’ He said to them, ‘Why were you searching for Me? Didn’t you know that I must be about the things of My Father?’” (Luke 2:41-43, 46-49, TLV).

Each Messianic congregation will have some kind of bar/bat mitzvah education regimen, involving Hebrew study, Bible study, a review of Jewish history and culture, some likely review of Christian history, a review of the modern Messianic movement, and likely also discipleship instruction for young adults experiencing puberty. In Messianic bar/bat mitzvah, the young adult is honored before the congregation, as the corporate Body of Messiah does have to recognize its responsibility in seeing young people welcomed and mentored. (As it is noted in Messianic Judaism Class, “It has been copied by the church in confirmation.”[4] Protestant denominations which offer confirmation classes to young adults, usually offer classes on what it means for young people to be responsible Christians, church members, Bible readers, and they address the challenges facing teenagers going through many life changes, as they face adulthood.)

The bar/bat mitzvah process does bear spiritual importance for young people not only being recognized as adults, but for evaluating their present standing before God. Galatians 3:24 communicates how “the Torah became our guardian to lead us to Messiah, so that we might be made right based on trusting” (TLV), meaning that our common human violation of the Torah’s instruction is to show us our need for a Redeemer. An ideal time to confirm that this has indeed happened, is when a young man or young woman is going through the process of bar or bat mitzvah.

Certainly Messianic Jewish children, and the children of intermarried couples in the Messianic movement, would be naturally anticipated to be those who go through bar/bat mitzvah. But what about non-Jewish children in the Messianic movement? This is where it has to be recognized that there is variance of approach in the Messianic community. More often than not, though, your local Messianic congregation will have its bar/bat mitzvah classes open to the children of both its Jewish and non-Jewish members. In fact, it is likely that there might be grown adults in attendance at its bar/bat mitzvah classes! If you are a non-Jewish parent, your local Messianic congregational leadership might recommend some modifications of the different blessings which are offered in the bar/bat mitzvah service, for your son or daughter. And, whether you are Jewish or non-Jewish, if your son or daughter is going through bar/bat mitzvah, you might want to suggest that some things be incorporated into their service, in order to honor their lives thus far. Much of this is dependent on the venue of your local Messianic congregation, and for an accounting of the needs of one’s family, extended family, and guests in attendance.

Circumcision

At the close of the 2010s, our faith community does not have a coherent theology of circumcision, even though its physical and spiritual components do make up a critical part of the Biblical narrative. The Ancient Israelites were admonished in Deuteronomy 10:16, “circumcise your heart, and stiffen your neck no longer” (NASU; cf. Colossians 2:11), speaking to the important lesson of circumcision: removing an outer barrier placed between a human being and God. Yet, the physical rite of male circumcision, is something we seldom address—mainly because it is a sexual issue. However, anyone knowing about the standard basics of the Jewish life cycle, should be familiar enough with how by ancient convention, male Jews are circumcised on the eighth day. Furthermore, anyone with a cursory understanding of some of the controversies which arose in the First Century ekklēsia, should be aware of how circumcision was a huge debate involving the inclusion of Greek and Roman Believers into the Body of Messiah.

Male circumcision, as a medical practice, was something which pre-dated the Patriarch Abraham, even though it is correctly recognized that male circumcision is the memorial sign of the Abrahamic covenant:

“God also said to Abraham, ‘As for you, My covenant you must keep, you and your seed after you throughout their generations. This is My covenant that you must keep between Me and you and your seed after you: all your males must be circumcised. You must be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin, and this will become a sign of the covenant between Me and you. Also your eight-day-olds must be circumcised, every male, throughout your generations, including a house-born slave or a slave bought with money from any foreigner who is not of your seed. Your house-born slave and your purchased slave must surely be circumcised. So My covenant will be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant’ (Genesis 17:9-13, TLV).

So severe was male circumcision, it was said, “But the uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin—that person will be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant” (Genesis 17:14, TLV). Leviticus 12:3 would further codify for native born males, born into Ancient Israel, “In the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin is to be circumcised” (TLV). Sojourners, entering into Ancient Israel, would have to be circumcised in order to eat of the Passover sacrifice, but as a result would be considered as natives: “But if an outsider dwells with you, who would keep the Passover for ADONAI, all his males must be circumcised. Then let him draw near and keep it. He will be like one who is native to the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat from it” (Exodus 12:48, TLV). Israel’s enemies in the Tanach, in particular the Philistines, were often taunted for being “uncircumcised” (i.e., 1 Samuel 17:26, 36; 2 Samuel 1:20)

During the Maccabean crisis of the Second Century B.C.E., the Seleucid Greeks made it illegal for Jewish mothers to circumcise their infant sons, on the threat of death (1 Maccabees 1:48). The right for Jews to circumcise, was something that the Maccabees properly fought and gave their lives for. So, it should not be surprising that by the First Century C.E., as the good news or gospel was going out into the Mediterranean, that it was definitely believed, that in order for non-Jews to be fully admitted into the people of God, that they needed to be circumcised as Jewish proselytes. While there were ancient Jewish discussions involving what it meant for a non-Jew to become a proselyte, circumcision was widely agreed to be necessary. Debates are witnessed throughout Paul’s letter to the Galatians whether circumcision was necessary of Greek and Roman Believers for them to be fully received into the Body of Messiah, and the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 met to decisively address the issue: “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5, ESV). Circumcision was not deemed necessary for non-Jewish Believers to be fully welcomed in as equal brothers and sisters of the Jewish Believers (Galatians 3:28).

There is little doubting the importance that male circumcision continues to have for Jewish Believers in Israel’s Messiah. Yeshua the Messiah Himself, was circumcised (Luke 1:57-66). The Apostle Paul was circumcised (Philippians 3:5), and he definitely says, “Then what is the advantage of being Jewish? Or what is the benefit of circumcision? Much in every way. First of all, they were entrusted with the sayings of God” (Romans 3:1-2, TLV). Paul had his disciple Timothy, who was born of a Jewish mother but had a Greek father, circumcised (Acts 16:1-3). Yet, Paul also warns against any over-inflated self-opinions about circumcision that First Century Jews might have had, as he also says, “Circumcision is indeed worthwhile if you keep the Torah; but if you break the Torah, your circumcision has become uncircumcision. Therefore, if the uncircumcised keeps the righteous decrees of the Torah, will not his uncircumcision be counted as circumcision?” (Romans 2:25-26, TLV).

Most of us are not fully informed as to all the details regarding the circumcision of infant males in our various Messianic congregations and assemblies. At most, we are probably aware how a Messianic Jewish couple or intermarried couple, will make sure that a newborn male is circumcised on the eighth day. Sometimes, a Jewish mohel, who has been specially trained in circumcision, will circumcise a Messianic Jewish male infant. Involved with this will be various traditions and customs involving the naming of the male child (cf. Luke 1:59), and blessings issued upon him. When a Jewish mohel is not available, then if there is a doctor in your local congregation, he or she will usually be consulted for the options that are available, which may then result in the infant male being circumcised in a hospital setting. At a later time, some kind of infant dedication, perhaps involving Jewish circumcision blessings, will take place.

Beyond the Jewish community, male circumcision has been a widescale medical practice in much of the West, for well over a century. Although its medical benefits have been debated in recent times, the authors of Messianic Judaism Class address the question “Are there any physical benefits to circumcision?” with, “There might be. They have discovered in Africa that the tribes that circumcise their males have a lower rate of HIV/AIDS infection.”[5] Because male circumcision is a common medical practice, questions inevitably arise regarding what non-Jewish families in the Messianic movement should do, when having a male child. All agree that physical circumcision is not required for salvation. There are those in the Messianic movement, approaching a passage like 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 as it addressing a vocational calling, who think that non-Jewish infant males should not be circumcised.[6] There are others, who think that physical circumcision as a medical practice, is hardly prohibited, but that some of the traditional Jewish ceremonies and blessings involving the naming of a male child, should be reserved for infant males of Messianic Jewish and intermarried couples. Another sort of ceremony or child dedication should be practiced to bless a non-Jewish infant male. Significant questions are posed for the future, given how in the Millennial Kingdom, no one uncircumcised of heart or flesh can enter into the Lord’s sanctuary (Ezekiel 44:9).[7]

Water Immersion

Within the broad Christian tradition, to be sure, some significance is placed on what is customarily called “baptism.” Baptism as an English term is widely derived from the Greek verb baptizō and Greek noun baptisma. The verb baptizō appears in not just the Greek New Testament or Apostolic Scriptures, but also the Septuagint, or ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Tanach. As is noted by the Thayer lexicon, baptizō can mean “to cleanse by dipping or submerging, to wash, to make clean with water.”[8] Due to much of the socio-religious associations that can go along with the English term “baptism,” the Messianic community tends to employ the more neutral term “immersion.” It is also quite common to hear the term mikveh employed, representative of a “gathering of water, esp. the ritual bath of purification” (Jastrow).[9] Many of the debates that take place in Protestantism, to be sure, involving “baptism,” do not need to be repeated in today’s Messianic congregations.

While Believers in Israel’s Messiah can often conclude that water immersion is something which is only witnessed in the Messianic Scriptures (New Testament), water immersion for Believers is rooted in the purification rituals of the Tanach (cf. Exodus 29:1, 4; Leviticus 17:15-16; Psalm 51:2). Individuals, and certainly members of the Levitical priesthood, had to typically go through a ritual purification in water, before approaching God in the Tabernacle or Temple. In Second Temple times, water immersion was required of new proselytes to Judaism, who would often be regarded as “born again” (b.Yevamot 48b). Yet, Jewish persons would often go through ritual immersion in water for other reasons in life, namely to denote a significant status change. When John, the precursor of Yeshua of Nazareth, arrived on the scene immersing people in water, it was precisely so that they could be called to repentance and be readied to recognize the coming Messiah (Matthew 3:4-6; John 1:24-25; cf. Matthew 3:13-17).

Water immersion following salvation (cf. Matthew 28:19-20), was deemed quite critical for new Believers in the First Century C.E. Those who were saved on the day of Shavuot/Pentecost were immersed in water (Acts 2:38), as were Cornelius and his companions when the good news was declared to them by Peter (Acts 10:45-48). The total immersion of a human person into water following a declaration of faith in Israel’s Messiah, is to not only signify a status change (Romans 6:6-7), but also for one to be identified with His death, burial, and resurrection: “Or do you not know that all of us who were immersed into Messiah Yeshua were immersed into His death? Therefore we were buried together with Him through immersion into death—in order that just as Messiah was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become joined together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also will be joined together in His resurrection” (Romans 6:3-5, TLV).

Messianic Jewish Believers can, at times, have some initial difficulty with water immersion as a part of coming to faith, because of forced baptisms enacted during the Middle Ages by Roman Catholicism. Frequently, European Jews were forced to convert and be baptized, or they could face seizure of property, deportation, or even death.[10] Non-Jewish Believers from evangelical Protestant backgrounds—particularly where “Believer’s baptism” was practiced—can have difficulty with not necessarily seeing how water immersion is rooted within Tanach purification rituals, but how the Jewish mikveh is something which has a wider range of applications. While the most important status change for a man or woman, is when he or she receives the salvation of Yeshua—there are likely other times when going through water immersion may be something useful. In Orthodox Judaism, women are immersed in water following their menstrual cycle. People in today’s Messianic community, may decide to go through a mikveh when a significant status change in their life is about to take place. Your congregational leadership should be consulted, before you go through any water immersion. As obvious as it might be, while Messianic congregations frequently do not require one to be re-immersed for congregational membership—going through a mikveh might be something you find useful, should you enter into a new community of Messiah followers.[11]

Communion

Significant questions can be raised by various people entering into the Messianic movement, from evangelical backgrounds, particularly regarding what is done regarding the common practice of communion. In diverse Christian traditions, remembering the Last Supper of Yeshua can take place any number of ways and any number of times. Sometimes communion is weekly, sometimes it is monthly; sometimes communion is offered to all in church attendance, and sometimes it is only offered to members of a particular denomination or assembly. Sometimes Christian communion uses leavened bread and grape juice, and sometimes Christian communion uses an unleavened wafer and wine.[12]

Messianic people are of the broad conviction that what is commonly called the Last Supper, held between Yeshua and His Disciples before His execution, was actually a Passover seder meal. Yeshua’s establishment of the New Covenant, by referencing the elements of bread and wine, were conducted in association with the unleavened bread and wine of the traditional seder meal (Luke 22:19-20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25). While many Christians remember the Lord’s Supper via a weekly or annual communion, Messianic practice tends to be far more infrequent.

How do Messianic people approach “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup” (1 Corinthians 11:26, TLV)? As indicated by the workbook Messianic Judaism Class, “Some interpret this to mean, ‘as often as you celebrate Pesakh, once per year. Some interpret this as every time you gather together. Some interpret this as one per week, month, quarter. Some interpret this as whenever you are guided by the Spirit.”[13] On the whole, within the broad Messianic community, the Lord’s Supper will be remembered within the context of the Passover seder, making it an annual serious occurrence. If the Lord’s Supper is at all honored a bit more regularly, it will likely be observed at some kind of a private prayer meeting, employing unleavened bread and grape juice.

Consult Your Rabbi

The four areas we have just covered: bar/bat mitzvah, circumcision, water immersion, and communion, are areas where today’s Messianic movement is admittedly still developing and exploring. The way that these practices are observed and applied in one congregation, is not likely to be the same as they are observed in another congregation. In the customary packaging for items labeled as “Kosher for Passover,” one also frequently finds “Consult your Rabbi.” This means that there might be some questions that need to be asked of one’s local, spiritual leader. And indeed, when it involves bar/bat mitzvah, circumcision, water immersion, communion, or some other significant practice witnessed in today’s Body of Messiah—your local, spiritual leader(s) will likely need to be consulted. And, such leader(s) should be honest enough with you, to indicate those areas where the Messianic movement as a whole is in need of some further theological refinement.

The admonition of Hebrews 13:17 directs Messiah followers to “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as ones who must give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no benefit to you” (TLV). Yet, all of us—recognizing a few of the present difficulties of our still-emerging and developing Messianic faith community—have at times been in (strong) disagreement with congregational leadership, over a particular issue or two. We need to each recognize how there is only one Messianic movement, and it is very small. None of the subjects we have just talked about, should merit one leaving a congregation or assembly, if you have a disagreement with your congregational leadership—or more likely some (outspoken) people within your congregation—over their implementation and application. Instead, we should each learn to give one another the space that we need to live out a Messianic walk of faith, and also respect the individual and familial needs of other people.


NOTES

[1] Messianic Judaism Class, Teacher Book, 56.

[2] The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged, 1.

[3] Messianic Judaism Class, Teacher Book, 56.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Messianic Judaism Class, Teacher Book, 56.

[6] There is no agreement among examiners whether 1 Corinthians 7:17-24, and its reference to “Let each man abide in that calling wherein he was called” (1 Corinthians 7:20, American Standard Version), relates to a vocational calling or a calling into salvation and sanctification.

The latter position is what the author ascribes to, based on the Greek source text and related statements in the Pauline letters. Consult the FAQ on the Messianic Apologetics website, “1 Corinthians 7:17-24.”

[7] For a further review, consult the author’s article “Is Circumcision for Everyone?”, appearing in Torah in the Balance, Volume II.

[8] Thayer, 94.

[9] Jastrow, 829.

[10] Messianic Judaism Class, Teacher Book, 63.

[11] For a further review, consult the article “The Waters of Immersion,” appearing in Torah in the Balance, Volume II.

[12] For a further review, consult Paul E. Engle, ed., Understanding Four Views on the Lord’s Supper (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007).

[13] Messianic Judaism Class, Teacher Book, 67.

Shemini

Shemini

Eighth

Leviticus 9:1-11:47
2 Samuel 6:1-7:17 (A); 6:1-19 (S)

“Faithful to be Holy”


by Mark Huey

Now that our annual remembrance of Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread have been completed, Shemini continues where Tzav (Leviticus 6:1[8]-8:36) finished, with the completion of the consecration and ordination of Aaron and his sons after seven days of sacrificial offerings. Recall that the final statement in Tzav reminds the reader that obedience to the word of the Lord took place without deviation:

“‘At the doorway of the tent of meeting, moreover, you shall remain day and night for seven days and keep the charge of the LORD, so that you will not die, for so I have been commanded.’ Thus Aaron and his sons did all the things which the LORD had commanded through Moses” (Leviticus 8:35-36).

Now as the instructions turn to the first day of the second week, or the eighth day (Leviticus 9:1), our portion focuses more on not only the consequences of taking the Lord’s commands lightly (Leviticus 10), but the imperative for the priesthood—and by extension all of Israel—to be holy by delineating what the Lord considers clean or unclean (Leviticus 11). The Lord was very concerned that Israel be a “holy nation” among the nations of the world (Exodus 19:6). With holiness a theme of this teaching, Moses stated that there was the possibility that the glory of the Lord would appear to Aaron, his sons, and the entire congregation after they followed the Lord’s instructions:

“Now it came about on the eighth day that Moses called Aaron and his sons and the elders of Israel; and he said to Aaron, ‘Take for yourself a calf, a bull, for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering, both without defect, and offer them before the LORD. Then to the sons of Israel you shall speak, saying, “Take a male goat for a sin offering, and a calf and a lamb, both one year old, without defect, for a burnt offering, and an ox and a ram for peace offerings, to sacrifice before the LORD, and a grain offering mixed with oil; for today the LORD will appear to you.”’ So they took what Moses had commanded to the front of the tent of meeting, and the whole congregation came near and stood before the LORD. Moses said, ‘This is the thing which the LORD has commanded you to do, that the glory of the LORD may appear to you’” (Leviticus 9:1-6).

While Moses suggested that the presence of the Lord might appear—after completing all of the instructions and blessing the people of Israel—the glory of the Lord actually did appear, and the Lord consumed the offerings with a blazing fire:

“Then Aaron lifted up his hands toward the people and blessed them, and he stepped down after making the sin offering and the burnt offering and the peace offerings. Moses and Aaron went into the tent of meeting. When they came out and blessed the people, the glory of the LORD appeared to all the people. Then fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar; and when all the people saw it, they shouted and fell on their faces” (Leviticus 9:22-24).

Nadab and Abihu

The response to the appearance of the glory of the Lord should be noted, as the Ancient Israelites shouted, and then fell on their faces in awe—and perhaps also trepidation—of what they had just witnessed. One would think that observing a consuming fire and the presence of the Lord, would be enough to seriously put the fear of Him in the hearts of all the witnesses. Yet as Shemini continues, we see that Nadab and Abihu, two of Aaron’s sons who had been close eyewitnesses to the stupefying event, apparently took their responsibilities somewhat cavalierly. At some point after the glory of the Lord had appeared, Nadab and Abihu did not follow the instructions properly, and instead they are recorded to have offered some sort of strange fire to the Lord. This resulted in their being immediately consumed:

“Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, took their respective firepans, and after putting fire in them, placed incense on it and offered strange fire before the LORD, which He had not commanded them. And fire came out from the presence of the LORD and consumed them, and they died before the LORD. Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘It is what the LORD spoke, saying, “By those who come near Me I will be treated as holy, and before all the people I will be honored.”’ So Aaron, therefore, kept silent. Moses called also to Mishael and Elzaphan, the sons of Aaron’s uncle Uzziel, and said to them, ‘Come forward, carry your relatives away from the front of the sanctuary to the outside of the camp.’ So they came forward and carried them still in their tunics to the outside of the camp, as Moses had said. Then Moses said to Aaron and to his sons Eleazar and Ithamar, ‘Do not uncover your heads nor tear your clothes, so that you will not die and that He will not become wrathful against all the congregation. But your kinsmen, the whole house of Israel, shall bewail the burning which the LORD has brought about. You shall not even go out from the doorway of the tent of meeting, or you will die; for the LORD’s anointing oil is upon you.’ So they did according to the word of Moses. The LORD then spoke to Aaron, saying, ‘Do not drink wine or strong drink, neither you nor your sons with you, when you come into the tent of meeting, so that you will not die—it is a perpetual statute throughout your generations—and so as to make a distinction between the holy and the profane, and between the unclean and the clean, and so as to teach the sons of Israel all the statutes which the LORD has spoken to them through Moses’” (Leviticus 10:1-11).

In reading this account and attempting to understand why the Lord consumed Nadab and Abihu with fire, one finds that there have been a variety of conclusions by both Jewish and Christian examiners down through the centuries. There is no doubt that Moses’ initial comment, reminding the people of what the Lord said, was, “Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified” (ESV). This indicated that Nadab and Abihu had not been in a proper frame of mind to be presenting anything before Him. Some interpretations surmise a prideful heart attitude of these two, who abused their priestly service, and were performing tasks without proper permission or with trying to subvert the position of their father Aaron. Clearly, the fact that Aaron remained silent after witnessing his two sons’ demise, suggests that he was in shock.

After two cousins carried away the smoldering corpses (Leviticus 10:4), two other sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, were commissioned to replace their brothers (Leviticus 10:6). Moses issued some clarifying statements which would further advocate the importance of taking their priestly responsibilities seriously (Leviticus 10:7). Finally, the Lord spoke directly to Aaron about the need for the Levitical priests to avoid drinking alcohol when they would come to perform their priestly duties—otherwise they would die (Leviticus 10:8-11). This admonition to Aaron, in such close proximity to the preceding events, has drawn many to conclude that Nadab and Abihu were perhaps intoxicated when they offered up the strange fire. This is a logical deduction, especially when it is followed by the requirements to teach God’s people about the distinctions between the holy and profane, and the clean and unclean.

Regardless of what the absolute interpretation of this morbid episode truly is, modern-day followers of the Messiah of Israel should adhere to the admonition to avoid wine or strong drink to the point of intoxication, especially when or if they are involved in the Lord’s service. Several statements by the Apostle Paul in the First Century, regarding the character of elders and deacons, confirm this advice:

“And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18).

“An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the assembly of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the assembly, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Timothy 3:2-10).

“For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict” (Titus 1:7-9).

Following Instructions

After the gruesome expiration of two of Aaron’s sons, and the admonitions about what had been done incorrectly and the priests’ responsibility to teach Israel the differences between the holy and the profane and the clean and the unclean—Moses and Aaron were very concerned about following the Lord’s commands accurately. In fact, after some more specific instructions to Eleazar and Ithamar, there appeared to be a difference of opinion about how to handle the goat sin offering:

“Then Moses spoke to Aaron, and to his surviving sons, Eleazar and Ithamar, ‘Take the grain offering that is left over from the LORD’s offerings by fire and eat it unleavened beside the altar, for it is most holy. You shall eat it, moreover, in a holy place, because it is your due and your sons’ due out of the LORD’s offerings by fire; for thus I have been commanded. The breast of the wave offering, however, and the thigh of the offering you may eat in a clean place, you and your sons and your daughters with you; for they have been given as your due and your sons’ due out of the sacrifices of the peace offerings of the sons of Israel. The thigh offered by lifting up and the breast offered by waving they shall bring along with the offerings by fire of the portions of fat, to present as a wave offering before the LORD; so it shall be a thing perpetually due you and your sons with you, just as the LORD has commanded.’ But Moses searched carefully for the goat of the sin offering, and behold, it had been burned up! So he was angry with Aaron’s surviving sons Eleazar and Ithamar, saying, ‘Why did you not eat the sin offering at the holy place? For it is most holy, and He gave it to you to bear away the guilt of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the LORD. Behold, since its blood had not been brought inside, into the sanctuary, you should certainly have eaten it in the sanctuary, just as I commanded.’ But Aaron spoke to Moses, ‘Behold, this very day they presented their sin offering and their burnt offering before the LORD. When things like these happened to me, if I had eaten a sin offering today, would it have been good in the sight of the LORD?’ When Moses heard that, it seemed good in his sight” (Leviticus 10:12-20).

Moses and Aaron took their responsibilities seriously. Neither one wanted to offend the Lord, but instead, desired to perform their duties in a manner that would be considered good and proper before Him. This is a great example that each of us, as His people today, needs to seriously be considering! Attention to detail is something that modern-day Believers should all take to serious note, as they work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). Be aware of this exhortation from the Apostle Paul to the Colossians, and how with each person’s individual actions with others, one should recognize that all that is done should be unto the Lord:

“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Yeshua, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them. Children, be obedient to your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing to the Lord. Fathers, do not exasperate your children, so that they will not lose heart. Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Messiah whom you serve. For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality” (Colossians 3:17-25).

What would be Paul’s specific instruction to us, living in the Twenty-First Century? What diverse groups on the social spectrum would he admonish to be working unto the Lord?

Clean and Unclean

Our Torah reading concludes with a lengthy chapter, Leviticus 11, on what are commonly referred to as the kosher dietary laws (cf. Deuteronomy 14). It is from this section where there is a significant amount of commentary seen in Judaism, regarding how they are to be implemented and applied in diverse situations. While the attention of readers to Leviticus ch. 11 will be particularly given to those animals considered clean and edible, or unclean an inedible—it has to be recognized that there are many more discussions to be witnessed in religious history about what kashrut or kosher is. Above and beyond all of the various details about the different domesticated animals, hoofs and cud chewing, fish scales and fins, different birds, or creeping insects—what the Lord desires most is a set-apart people who seek to be holy as He is holy:

“For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. And you shall not make yourselves unclean with any of the swarming things that swarm on the earth. For I am the LORD who brought you up from the land of Egypt to be your God; thus you shall be holy, for I am holy. This is the law regarding the animal and the bird, and every living thing that moves in the waters and everything that swarms on the earth, to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean, and between the edible creature and the creature which is not to be eaten” (Leviticus 11:44-47).

The basis, for understanding the importance of the kosher dietary laws, is in understanding how eating the way God prescribes, is a matter of being a part of His holy people. While violating the dietary laws is surely not as severe as murder or adultery, not allowing the Lord to have a say on what we eat—ignoring His Instruction—can be an offense to Him.

Be Ye Holy…

As we reflect upon Shemini this week, the overwhelming theme of the reading is the Lord’s desire that His faithful followers seek to be holy as His witnesses to the world. Being holy is a critical call placed upon God’s people to be a light to the nations (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6)—a definite theme that has reached its climax via the arrival of Yeshua the Messiah. However, in order for any of us to be that light to the nations, we must each know the Lord’s instructions to us, keep and obey them, and above all understand their intent. By studying the Torah, today’s Believers can more fully appreciate that the Lord has our best interests in mind, as He wants to see us protected from sin and its devastating consequences (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:11).

Modern-day followers of the Messiah, upon examining Shemini, should be better able to understand that the Lord will use what has been preserved in the Torah, to spur His people to truly seek holiness. As the Apostle Peter exhorted First Century Believers,

“Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Yeshua the Messiah. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘YOU SHALL BE HOLY, FOR I AM HOLY [Leviticus 11:44, 45].’ If you address as Father the One who impartially judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves in fear during the time of your stay on earth” (1 Peter 1:13-17).

The requirement to seek holiness is not something that has changed. Instead, reminders of how the Lord wants His children to take His instructions seriously, like those commandments seen in Shemini, are found all throughout the remainder of the Bible. The examples of Moses and Aaron wanting to follow the sacrificial system accurately, contrasted to the tragedy of Nadab and Abihu, should make one pause when considering our individual approaches to the Holy One. We might want to specifically recall the recorded testimony in the Book of Acts, about a couple which deceived the Apostles regarding a sale of property:

“But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the price for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.’ And as he heard these words, Ananias fell down and breathed his last; and great fear came over all who heard of it. The young men got up and covered him up, and after carrying him out, they buried him. Now there elapsed an interval of about three hours, and his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter responded to her, ‘Tell me whether you sold the land for such and such a price?’ And she said, ‘Yes, that was the price.’ Then Peter said to her, ‘Why is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out as well.’ And immediately she fell at his feet and breathed her last, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband” (Acts 5:1-10).

This tragic incident should serve as a recollection that the Lord is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8), and that He should never be mocked (Galatians 6:7). And so, I pray that this week’s parashah would be a vivid reminder that as faithful children of God we are to seek holiness according to His ways, so that we may urgently accomplish His tasks, and affect a difference in our sin-cursed world.

Men and Women in the Body of Messiah: Answering Crucial Questions

Anyone who receives a broad-based theological education today, will quickly find that there are a number of issues upon which scholars, congregational leaders, and laypersons not only disagree about—but will starkly divide over. One of the biggest, divisive issues in contemporary evangelical Protestant theology, involves women in ministry. There are Christian denominations which support females serving alongside of males as co-leaders of the assembly, ordained as pastors, and there are other Christian denominations which strongly oppose females serving in such a capacity. When it comes to marital relationships, there are those who support marriages where husband and wife are co-leaders of the family, and there are others who believe that a husband leads the family while the wife follows.

It is no secret that in both Conservative and Reform Judaism, as well as in many evangelical Protestant denominations, that both men and women can be ordained as either rabbis or pastors. For certain, both men and women can serve side-by-side within the leadership structure of various local synagogues and churches, as both facilitators and teachers. In stark contrast to this, most Messianic congregations are led entirely by males, few females serve within the leadership structure of the assembly, and almost no females would be expected to give a teaching on Shabbat. This is then widely reflected in the marriages of many Messianic men and women, where the husband is the leader of the family, and the wife is expected to follow and defer to him. In terms of congregational and familial leadership, the broad Messianic movement is a virtual carbon copy of complementarian Protestantism, where male leadership and authority is upheld as the ideal.

The Messianic community is hardly one-hundred percent complementarian. There are many people who attend male-led and male-directed Messianic assemblies, who keep their opinions to themselves. More frequently than not, those who are egalitarian leaning, are younger people. When such young men and young women ask legitimate questions from the Holy Scriptures, they are often patronized, ignored, and silenced. A refusal to address the concerns of what is commonly labeled the “Millennial generation,” could very well lead to seeing many young people in today’s Messianic movement leave at a later time. This resource, Men and Women in the Body of Messiah: Answering Crucial Questions, engages with both Christian complementarian as well as common perspectives regarding gender roles witnessed in the broad Messianic community. It reflects an emerging egalitarian philosophy, where the gifts, talents, and skills of all Messianic men and women can be employed within our congregations and fellowships.




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