Comment on Peter Vest’s Review of Give Me A Place Where I May Dwell
Recently Peter Vest, author of Orthodox Messianic Judaism, reviewed my book, Give Me A Place Where I May Dwell. His is the first critical review of which I am aware. Critical, that is, but not scathing. His perspective provides ample opportunity for discussion and refinement of our understanding, and much room for agreement. Peter invited me to comment on his review, and I am glad to accept the invitation in hope of advancing a very useful dialogue. Here is his review. My comments follow.
Posted on Orthodox Messianic Judaism, April 19, 2015
by Peter Vest
I just finished reading a book that is attempting to do for the Ephraimite Movement what Theodor Herzl’s book “Der Judenstaat” did for Zionism. Some of what it says is good…other portions are very troubling indeed.
First, here’s the author, Albert McCarn:
As you can see, he is a well-decorated ex-military officer. And we can all be very thankful for his many years of service to our country.
Here’s the book which, you will note, displays a proposed national flag for the Ephraimite Nation:
So let’s get into it.
Every book is about a problem and a proposed solution. This book frames the problem something like this:
You very well could be a descendant of the 10 Lost Tribes of Israel which means that you’re living in exile from your homeland (the tribal territories of the Northern Tribes of Israel), deprived of a sense of national community with your people–the Ephraimites, suffering from the onslaught of increasingly hostile, anti-Biblical culture in your host country or even outright oppression.
But there is hope for you to rejoin your lost community and reclaim your birthright to the Northern Tribal Territory of Israel:
You can help restore national consciousness to Ephraim by (1) envisioning the kinship you share with other Ephraimites all over the world and (2) joining many others in a mass exodus from all of their various host countries as they embark on an epic quest to reclaim the “land of the fathers.”
The first point he makes is that G-d did not promise the Land of Israel exclusively to the Jews. He takes several pages to explain that G-d promised the Land to Abraham’s descendants and that when the Land was officially given to the nation of Israel, in fulfillment of that promise, the nation consisted of more than just Jews (i.e. the Tribe of Judah).
So then the question becomes: what ever happened all of those non-Jewish tribes to whom belong significant portions of the Land of Israel? While there exists an identifiable Jewish community, there is presently no identifiable community representing the Northern Tribes of Israel (i.e. Ephraimites or “House of Israel” as opposed to “House of Judah”).
But there’s a solution: “…the Ephraimite nation…may be…envisioned into existence.”
He offers 3 elements that must be met in order for someone to belong to the Ephraimite nation:
ELEMENT 1: ISRAELITE ETHNICITY
He lays out on pages 34-35 a genealogy that shows how most people are descended from ethnic Israelites. ‘Ethnicity, or physical descent, does therefore compose one of the identifying features of our Ephraimite community.” He adds, “That, indeed, is key to our national definition…” [emphasis added].
ELEMENT 2: ALLEGIANCE TO YESHUA
ELEMENT 3: TORAH OBSERVANCE
“…the third component of Ephraimite identity is an adherence to G-d’s Torah.” He explains that this does not mean perfect obedience but rather an acknowledgment that the Torah is still the foundational guide for our way of life.
EXAMPLES AND APPLICATION
Having defined the in-group, he goes on to define the out-groups. Muslims are obviously out since they deny the Messiahship of Yeshua; Christians are out because, though they may have Israelite descent, and though they profess allegiance to Yeshua, they reject Torah as G-d’s standard for their lives; non-Messianic Jews are out because they reject Yeshua’s Messiahship. Lastly, he says ‘But what of those who are not physical descendants of Ephraim, but do profess faith in Yeshua and try to keep Torah?” He answers that such a person only becomes an Ephraimite if he rejects his prior ethnic identification and affirms a specific tribal identification within Israel. For this point, he cites to the case of Ruth as precedent. Finally, by way of application, he announces: “Let all the world know henceforth that I am an Israelite, of the House of Joseph, of the Tribe of Ephraim. Who will join me and other committed Israelites in reconstituting our nation of the House of Joseph?”
THREAT TO ISRAEL?
Anticipating the threat this nationalized brand of his particular version of Two House Theology poses to the Modern State of Israel, he is quick to add:
“Before going further I must state emphatically that the Ephraimite movement has no intention of usurping the sovereignty of any existing state. Regarding the State of Israel in particular, we have no desire to infringe on Israeli territory.”
And this I would like to believe. However, he says elsewhere:
“There is no need to hide our hope and expectation that the L-rd will establish all of our people within the borders he has promised,”
“We cannot consider permanent settlement anywhere other than the ancient land promised to our forefathers…Much of [the Promised Land] is already under the sovereignty of the State of Israel,”
and then later in Chapter 5 where he lays down concrete steps for building the nation of Ephraim (e.g. learning the Hebrew language, creating a national press, establishing an Ephraimite Knesset, recognizing a national flag, starting an Ephraimite National Fund, etc), he uses a very particular expression:
“Ephraimite Birthright Foundation” [emphasis added]
This is the foundation that will serve to educate the youth via trips to Israel about their “birthright” to the Northern Territory of Israel. And he specifically uses the term “birthright” to define how an “Ephraimite” should view the tribal territories that belonged to the ancient Northern Tribes.
On page 98, McCarn says something good: “There is a place for compromise…”
And he says on page 28 that “the world’s Jewish population contains elements of all the tribes.”
This is a good place to begin. Can we agree, given that Jewry contains elements of all the tribes, that modern Jewry has a right to the entire Land of Israel–even “Greater Israel”?
I hope that Mr. McCarn is willing to compromise on this point. Because I feel that a guiding principle to any viable Messianic Nationalism must be the recognition of the Jewish right to the entire Land of Israel (even Greater Israel).
The next issue where compromise should be sought is the definition of nationalism itself. McCarn has proposed an ethnocentric basis for membership in the nation thus characterizing it as an Ephraimite Nation. Put another way, McCarn excludes the possibility that the greater family of Israel contains non-tribally affiliated members. Yet there are many Messianics, myself included, who claim no tribal descent and base our identity purely in covenantal terms. So I propose, as a compromise, that we identify purely in covenantal terms–as followers of Yeshua.
Now, I realize that this latter proposal means that Gentile Believers will have to approach the Land more humbly and without any sense of entitlement. Indeed, we will be the least in the Kingdom and can only hope for the extra-tribal portions of the Land that once belonged to Edom and Moab and various Canaanite city-states. In short, we could only hope to form a protective barrier around the entire Tribally-allotted territory of Israel. And I say “hope” because we would only be able to live in those parts if (1) the Modern State of Israel enlarges its territory and (2) for some reason (perhaps for national survival) allows us to dwell in those outer regions of Greater Israel.
And now I’d like to open things up for anyone to share their thoughts. Any brave souls out there? : )
Comment on Peter Vest’s Review of Give Me a Place Where I May Dwell
Posted on The Barking Fox, April 28, 2015
by Al McCarn
The first question we should ask is whether we are starting from the same understanding of this book. In large part yes, but from Peter’s summary of the “problem” and “proposed solution” it appears that I have not done well enough explaining the intent. If the focus of the book is on us as human beings, then it is not worth reading at all. If, however, it is an investigation of the Lord God’s business with humanity and a proposal based in Scripture of what humans are supposed to do in answer to His covenantal call, then it is something that requires serious attention. That, in fact, is my intent. If the testimony of Scripture is true, then YHVH intends to provide a vehicle for salvation to the nations from His nation, Israel, and that to do so He intends to regather and reestablish the entire nation of Israel, not just the Jewish part. The “problem”, or question, is identifying this non-Jewish part of Israel. The “solution” is to begin with the promises of Scripture and then take action based on those promises.
This is where we get to the specific message of the book: the non-Jewish part of Israel are the scattered “Lost Tribes” of Ephraim (known also as the Northern Kingdom, House of Israel, and House of Joseph). The Ephraimite tribes were exiled over 2700 years ago after the Assyrian conquest of Samaria and destined to wander the entire earth. There they are mixed with all nations until such time as the Lord restores them to national existence and reunites them with the House of Judah (known also as the Southern Kingdom, Judah, Judea, and the Jewish People). My contention is that we are witnessing this long-awaited restoration right before our eyes. It is happening in the Torah Awakening of Messianic and Hebrew Roots believers who are realizing that our Christian traditions have missed a key element over the last 1,900 years by rejecting Torah.
The Torah Awakening has been going on for a generation, and has picked up considerable momentum in the last decade. Up to this point it has largely been a matter of religious expression, in particular the obvious practices of observing Shabbat (Sabbath) and the Feasts of the Lord (Passover, Unleavened Bread, First Fruits, Pentecost/Shavuot, Trumpets/Rosh Hashana, Atonement/Yom Kippur, and Tabernacles/Sukkot) instead of Sunday, Christmas, and Easter, as well as eating according to the requirements of Leviticus 11, and referring to our Messiah by His Hebrew name, Yeshua, instead of Jesus. There are other differences based on individual interpretations of Scripture, some of which have caused unnecessary division in the Body, but for the most part this Awakening has produced a maturing Messianic/Hebrew Roots Movement that is embracing the entire testimony of Scripture and gaining from it a much broader and deeper understanding of God’s intent to bring unprecedented glory to Himself through Israel, the people He intends to restore in spite of themselves:
“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then then nations will know that I am the Lord,” declares the Lord God, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight.” (Ezekiel 36:22-23 NASB)
In other words, this restoration is going to happen whether we like it or not, agree with it or not, or participate in it or not. The Holy One of Israel will accomplish His intended purposes because His very reputation is at stake. The real question for every individual is whether they want to accept the Lord’s invitation to take part in this great adventure, or sit on the sidelines and watch it happen. My book is an attempt to chart a way for those who accept the invitation to move beyond the realm of religious expression and take the next logical step of learning to act as this nation YHVH is rebuilding. Envisioning the existence of Ephraim is a big part of it, but this is not done in a vacuum; it is based on the weight of Scripture as I have documented in the book. And indeed one day we will engage in the Second and Greater Exodus out of the nations in which we are now scattered, but that is not going to happen tomorrow. In fact, it may not happen for several more generations. There are many intermediate steps to take before we can return to the land of our fathers, starting with acknowledgement of the fact that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are indeed our fathers.
This brings us to the question of Israelite identity. Peter correctly identifies the three criteria I specified for inclusion in the Ephraimite Nation: “Israelite ancestry, however tenuous; allegiance to Yeshua of Nazareth as Messiah; and Torah observance, or at least the goal of Torah observance.” (pp 39-40) This is where Peter highlights the part of my manuscript that needs the greatest attention in the second edition. The way I have expressed these criteria does lead to the impression that ethnicity is the greatest of them. By overemphasizing physical descent I have obscured two important points that Peter has correctly noted: the nation includes many who likely have no physical descent from any of the Twelve Tribes, and for that reason the primary criterion for inclusion in the nation is covenantal.
Let me make an attempt at clarifying the point. No one would be part of Israel if it were not for YHVH’s unbreakable covenant with our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This includes our brethren of Judah, which is why the Apostle Paul mentioned “adoption as sons” as one of the irrevocable gifts and callings of God given to the Jewish people (Romans 9:1-5, 11:28-32). This is the work of Messiah, extending even to those who do not yet know who Messiah is, but who by faith believe God to fulfill His promises of redemption and demonstrate their faith by obedience to His commandments. Nevertheless, we must recognize that Scripture records no covenantal promise of redemption to any nation other than Israel, which is why Paul goes to great lengths to explain how Messiah Yeshua makes it possible for every person, regardless of ethnicity, to become part of Israel (Romans 8:15-12:2; Ephesians 2; Galatians 3). Paul even states explicitly that the descendants of Abraham who will inherit the promises made to him are not many seeds, but one Seed in Messiah (Galatians 3:16). The first step in membership in the nation, therefore, is to acknowledge that we are Israelites by virtue of the work of Messiah Yeshua.
It is only by this acknowledgement that we can begin to inherit the promises, and begin to walk in the responsibilities of keeping the commandments of God just as our father Abraham did. And that is the basis for imagining or envisioning Ephraim into existence. It is not some metaphysical construct, but rather an expression of faith as defined in Hebrews 11:1 as the “assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The writer of Hebrews goes on to praise the saints of old, and to link all of us down through the ages with them:
All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16 NASB)
We are all looking toward that same heavenly country that our father Abraham was expecting in faith: the country of Israel, meaning the land and the people. The land has always been there, and is now being reclaimed by the House of Judah. The people, however, have been in exile for a long, long time, and only a small portion of them (namely, about half of the recognized Jewish population of the world) have as yet returned. Thus we are all still looking for fulfillment of these promises based on the covenants with God which our fathers and mothers entered into on our behalf, which God Himself remembered and kept for His Name’s sake (Leviticus 26:44-45), and into which we in this day can reenter by professing allegiance to the Messiah Son of David and by walking in obedience to His commandments.
Covenant, therefore, is the primary criterion for inclusion in this Ephraimite nation of Northern Israel. So also is adherence to Messiah Yeshua. It should be clear by now why the Jewish portion of Israel is not part of the Ephraimite segment of the nation: Jews for the most part do not acknowledge Yeshua as Messiah. That does not mean they are not Israelites, a point Paul addresses at length in the previously referenced treatise in Romans 9-11. It does mean that Jews are from a different part of the nation, a part which has had a different purpose according to the Father’s eternal plan. It is a very important purpose: keeping the oracles of God, however imperfectly, and maintaining the physical manifestation of the nation of Israel as a testimony to God’s promises and assurance of His ultimate restoration of the entire Kingdom. My book is not about building the Jewish part of the nation; it is already in existence and will remain so. What I have written is about bringing the rest of the nation back into existence according to God’s promises. We should not expect Jews to become part of Ephraim any more than we should expect Ephraimites to become Jews. What we should expect, however, is for both of them to begin to recognize each other as brothers and begin working toward reconciliation and cooperation in anticipation that the Lord God will one day complete their reunification when Messiah reigns from Zion.
Where, then, does physical descent fit into the picture? Think of it as leaven, or as seed scattered in the fields. That is how Yeshua taught it in His parables of the Kingdom (Matthew 13). As I and others have written elsewhere (see The Shemitah and The Yovel: Examining The Relevance of God’s Appointed Times, Part III, The Purpose of the Holy Spirit, and Five Loaves, Two Fish, One Messiah), this “seed” or “leaven” of the tribes of Ephraim (and also of Judah) have carried testimony of the Lord God to the entire earth, making people ready to hear and receive the gospel of God’s redemption. Leaven and seeds lose their original identity when they do their work of leavening dough and germinating in the earth. It is impossible to reconstruct them or return them to their original form once they have produced a fully leavened cake of bread, or a field of ripe grain. However, what they have produced bears the same essence as the original, and if it were not for the original would be something completely unrecognizable. It is just so with the tribes of Israel. We cannot and should not attempt to reconstruct them exactly as they were, but we should recognize that their essence is still with us, and because of that the whole world is able to enter into covenant with our Creator and become part of His nation of Israel.
Why, then, do I assert my identity as a son of Joseph of the tribe of Ephraim? That, like all the rest of this, is an act of faith. At some point we will all be organized into tribes. While the Lord may do this based on DNA or other physical criteria, it does seem that there is a large element of personal choice in the matter. How, for example, did all those non-Israelites who left Egypt in the Exodus get organized into tribes in the first place? When the first census of Israel occurred in the second year of the Exodus (Numbers 1), there was no category of “Other”. Every person was numbered with one of the 13 Tribes (counting Levi, the priestly tribe, as well as Ephraim and Manasseh, the two tribes descended from Joseph as his birthright double portion). If the mixed multitude did not choose which tribe to join, who made the choice for them? Consider also the promise of Ezekiel regarding division of the land under Messiah’s reign:
“So you shall divide this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. You shall divide it by lot for an inheritance among yourselves and among the aliens who stay in your midst, who bring forth sons in your midst. And they shall be to you as the native-born among the sons of Israel; they shall be allotted an inheritance with you among the tribes of Israel. And in the tribe with which the alien stays, there you shall give him his inheritance,” declares the Lord God. (Ezekiel 47:21-23 NASB)
This passage tells us two important things. First, these aliens living in the land will receive an inheritance among the tribes, meaning that these people are to be considered Israelites regardless of their physical descent. The inference we may draw from this is that these people are no longer strangers and aliens, but will in fact partake in the national life of Israel by pledging allegiance to Israel’s King and following His commandments. If it were not so, why would they be granted an inheritance? Second, we infer that the tribes have already come back into existence before the allotment of territory. Thus, at some point before the Son of David gathers His people back into the land (probably during the Great Tribulation/Time of Jacob’s Trouble if Revelation 7 is any indication), the tribes are established. If that is so, and if we are indeed at the end of this present age as many prophecy watchers believe, what prevents us from stepping out in faith and choosing tribal identity? That is why I have done so. If I have erred, the Lord will make that clear. However, if it is time to reconstitute this part of the Israelite nation, then we should expect tribal identity to become more prominent.
Which brings us to the question of the other “out-groups”, as Peter calls them. What of those, like Muslims, who may claim physical descent from the Ten Tribes, but do not acknowledge Yeshua as Messiah? And what of Christians who acknowledge Yeshua, and may or may not have physical descent, but do not desire to keep Torah? Those who do not acknowledge Yeshua are as yet not grafted into the Nation, but we can certainly hope that they will be one day. That is the whole reason for evangelism. As for Christians, they are indeed part of the Covenant, and thus are clearly part of the Nation of Israel. However, most are not yet ready to acknowledge their identity as Israelites even though Scripture clearly says that is who they are. I am persuaded that this is a matter of revelation. Even as it requires Divine Revelation for someone to recognize the identity of Messiah (Matthew 16:13-20), so also is it a matter of Divine Revelation for someone to recognize their own identity as an Israelite. It would seem that both of these “blindnesses” are what Paul means when he refers to “blindness in part”, or “partial hardening”, having come to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in (Romans 11:25-27). I cannot claim full understanding of this matter, but it would seem to me that certain people are being called out even now to be the advance party, or vanguard, of the House of Israel to prepare the way for the multitudes who will follow in time. Those called out ones are the Ephraimites of today. This is not to say that they are in any way better or greater than Christians remaining for now in the church, or Muslims still in service to Islam, but rather that they are answering a specific call to fulfill a critical service for the entire Nation and the world.
And then there is the question of inheritance. Peter takes issue with the fact that I have asserted the Scriptural promises of our King to an inheritance within the borders of Israel, namely from the River of Egypt to the River Euphrates (Genesis 15:18; Exodus 23:31; Deuteronomy 1:7-8). Yet why is this a problem when we are indeed Israelites and are to inherit this land along with our brethren of Judah? I certainly agree that the Jewish people have a right to the entire land of Israel, but so also do the Ephraimite people and the companions who will be coming with them and with Judah in the promised restoration. And here is a potential disconnect: the promised restoration has not yet happened. Eventually all this land will be Israel, and at that time all the tribes will be granted allotments. The present reality is much different, and that is why I am careful to state that we of Ephraim have no desire to acquire any land currently within the borders of the State of Israel. What Peter has not mentioned is the lengthy section of my book under the heading “A Long Journey Home” (pp. 67-73). That section begins like this: “How shall this land open for us? Most likely the same way such things have always happened: through war and upheaval.”
I am not referring to an Ephraimite war against Judah, or any kind of aggressive action on our part to take land from the State of Israel or anywhere else. We have no power to do so now, nor is there any need. For one thing, we are still not a nation. We must begin to think and act like a nation right where we are in the diaspora before we can even begin to think of settling in any part of the land promised to our ancestors. And even then who would give us land if we ask for it? No one, of course. The current state boundaries have been set since 1919, with modification, and will not change until the next great cataclysmic war which will alter the existing state system. This is prophesied, of course. What else are the wars of Psalm 83, Isaiah 17, Ezekiel 38-39, and elsewhere if not wars of the existing Babylonian world system against the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Messiah? We do not need to do anything to instigate these conflicts. They are already happening right before our eyes. However, until we have a national existence of some sort in our current exile, we will be hard pressed to move into our inheritance when the time comes, and will not be able to fulfill our role in helping Judah come into their inheritance (Isaiah 11:11-16).
There is one more point to address in Peter’s review. Regarding the question of the Israelite identity of people who have no physical descent from Ephraim, but do profess faith in Yeshua and try to keep Torah, Peter says this about what I have written: “He answers that such a person only becomes an Ephraimite if he rejects his prior ethnic identification and affirms a specific tribal identification within Israel. For this point, he cites to the case of Ruth as precedent.” Indeed I do cite Ruth, as well as Rahab the Canaanite, Uriah the Hittite, and Obadiah the Edomite. Then I quote Ruth’s declaration to Naomi (Ruth 1:16-17), and say this:
With that declaration Ruth ceased being a Moabite and became an Israelite. Her subsequent actions confirmed her decision as she proved faithful not only to her mother-in-law Naomi, but to the God of Israel and his ways. So also should be the case of those who are not physical descendants of Israel, but who desire to leave their previous identity and become identified with the people and nation of God. (pp. 41-42).
Although I do not use the term “reject”, I can see where Peter construes this meaning from my text. The question is actually one of perception and emphasis. On the one hand we are turning from that which we have claimed as our primary source of identity, and on the other hand turning toward a new identity based on the promises of our God. It is not so much a matter of “rejection” of the one as it is much more an embracing of the other. For example, when my ancestors left Scotland in 1746 to settle in the Americas, they did not cease being Scots. Neither did they become English even though they settled in the “English” colony of North Carolina. They became American Scots. Thirty years later, when war sundered the colonies from England, my ancestors became Americans of Scottish background. They did not reject their Scottish identity, but rather carried it with them into their new identity as Americans. “Scottish” ceased being their primary identification, but it remained a distinctive part of their American identity, even as “Moabite” remained a distinctive part of Ruth’s Israelite identity.
Here is another example. Consider the case of a hypothetical Jewish family living in Berlin in 1919. They would likely have identified themselves as German Jews, and would have contributed their substance and the lives of their sons to defense of Germany during World War I. Like other Germans, they would have been devastated at Germany’s defeat, suffered grievously at the terms imposed by the Treaty of Versailles, and worked hard to recover a measure of security and prosperity for themselves and their country during the 1920s. Then something out of their control happened: in 1933 a man named Adolf Hitler became Chancellor. Within half a decade these patriotic German Jews became outcasts and pariahs, blamed for the ills that had come upon the nation which their family had called home for centuries. By 1939 they had ceased to be German citizens, not by any action of their own, but because their homeland had ceased to own them. It was but a short step from being stateless persons to becoming non-persons, and from there to something less than human deserving only extermination. By 1945, if they survived, they would no longer be German Jews, but Jews who had come from Germany. Assuming they were able to make Aliyah, by 1948 they would have become something new and different: they would be Israelis, an identity that incorporated their Jewishness by its very nature, and which they would enrich with the good things of their German background which they would bring to the new nation. Thus we could say that this family did not reject their prior national identification, but that their national homeland rejected them.
This is an instructive example. It is quite possible, considering the anticipated prophetic upheavals yet to come, that we Ephraimites shall not have to reject anything about our ethnic our national origins; rather, we will be rejected simply because of who we are. This is already happening to Christians, Jews, and Messianic and Hebrew Roots believers around the world. If we do not come together as Israelites, where then shall we go?
 In truth, what Christian traditions have rejected is actually just a small part, or perhaps the easiest part, of Torah, in particular Sabbath/Shabbat, the Feasts of the Lord, and the commandments regarding food. Christians have done well with the “weightier matters of the Law”: justice, mercy, and faithfulness. This is something I have addressed in previous blog posts (see Fox Byte 5775 #24: Shmini and Fox Byte 5774 #30: The Truth About Transformation).
 Drs. Alex and Georgina Perdomo of the Etz Yosef (Stick of Joseph) Project have published a survey of the attributes of the Twelve Tribes based on Scripture which is helpful for those who would like to investigate this question for themselves. See http://etzyoseph.org/chart-of-the-twelve-tribes-of-israel-2/.