Fox Byte 5775 #47: Re’eh (See)
It is understandable why Peter Jackson had to take considerable license with The Lord of the Rings when he brought J.R.R. Tolkien’s mammoth work to the screen, and yet his choices inevitably brought disappointment to Tolkien aficionados. Why, for example, did Jackson choose to minimize the presence of Farmer Maggot? Tolkienists take issue with the fact that his role in The Fellowship of the Ring was diminished to the point of insignificance. In the book, Farmer Maggot saved Frodo and his companions as they fled the Shire, giving them provision and helping them elude Sauron’s dreaded Black Riders. It was unexpected help, for Frodo had considered Farmer Maggot an enemy. As a child Frodo had taken a liking to Maggot’s mushrooms, and on more than one occasion absconded with portions of the good farmer’s crop. Such youthful mischief roused Maggot’s anger, compelling him to chase Frodo from his land and threaten him with his very large dogs should he ever return. And so it was that Frodo grew up fearing Farmer Maggot, never knowing that beneath his fierce anger lay a loyal, generous, and hospitable heart. Thanks to the mediation of his companion Pippin, and to the dire need of the moment, Frodo at last gained opportunity to get to know the real Farmer Maggot. He explained as much as they prepared to leave Maggot’s home:
Thank you very much indeed for your kindness! I’ve been in terror of you and your dogs for over thirty years, Farmer Maggot, though you may laugh to hear it. It’s a pity: for I’ve missed a good friend.
Frodo’s words present us with an all-too-familiar and all-too-tragic reality. How often have individuals, families, and nations remained at odds over ancient offenses, the causes of which are long forgotten? How much suffering has multiplied on the earth because natural allies regard each other as enemies, or at least minimize their contact with each other out of mistrust and misbegotten fear? And how much greater is that tragedy if the people who regard each other in this way are the two parts of YHVH’s people? In truth, Moses and Yeshua have no contradictions or arguments, but their followers think they do, and for that reason Jews and Christians have separated themselves from one another for twenty centuries.
What is it exactly that separates Jews from Christians? The process occurred over several centuries, but the two wars Rome fought against Judea in the First and Second centuries defined the breaking point. The Great Jewish Revolt of 66-70 CE brought the destruction of the Temple and the beginning of the Jewish Diaspora. The Bar-Kokhba Revolt of 132-135 brought the complete destruction of Jerusalem and its reconstruction as a pagan city. Caesar Hadrian issued decrees forbidding Jews from living in the city and changing the name of Judea to Palestina. The persecution of Jews extended to bans on Torah study, Sabbath (Shabbat) observance, circumcision, and other practices. Until that time, Jews who believed in Yeshua of Nazareth as Messiah worshipped with non-believing Jews in the synagogues, and non-Jewish believers in Yeshua worshipped with them as well, observing the same holy days and studying the same Torah. Afterward, Jewish believers found themselves caught in the middle as non-Jewish believers and non-believing Jews separated from them, the one for survival, the other motivated by enmity. And thus the seeds of the Greek and Roman churches were sown, becoming bitter fruit two centuries later when Caesar Constantine gave the separation the force of law. Since then, Christianity and Judaism have developed as distinct religions, seldom acknowledging that they sprang from the same root, a willful ignorance that has produced untold tragedy.
But how did it all really begin? Perhaps the seeds of this separation began not with the Great Jewish Revolt, but with something that Moses said. Having explained to our Israelite ancestors the terms of the Covenant into which they have entered at YHVH’s invitation, Moses proceeds to explain the specifics of how they are to live according to that Covenant. The tone changes in the opening paragraph of Re’eh (See, Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17) as he defines for the people the simple choice in front of them: either obey YHVH, or not.
See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, which I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I am commanding you today, by following other gods which you have not known. (Deuteronomy 11:26-28 NASB)
This is the heart of the transaction. It should be something every parent and child understand. The parent establishes the rules of conduct, and the children have the choice to obey or not. Obedience brings good things (blessings), such as praise, special rewards, assurance of identity as a valued member of the family, and increased trust and responsibility. Disobedience brings bad things (curses), such as punishment, restriction from privileges, strained relationships with others in the family, and, should the bad choices continue and worsen into the child’s adulthood, banishment from the house. The loving parents do not want to exercise that final option. What they prefer is to have responsible daughters and sons who grow up as contributing members of the household, perhaps even becoming partners in the family business, or launching into other productive careers, and in time marrying and establishing households of their own. And so it is with our Heavenly Father, Whose Covenant reflects not only the expectations of a parent with a child, but of a husband with a wife, and a friend, ally, and partner in every other aspect of life. He desires to be all that to His anointed nation of Israel, and through Israel to the entire world. The choice, therefore, stands to this day before all who would enter into this Covenant relationship with the Creator.
This should not be a strange thing. The issue of obedience appears in many human relationships, such as that of governments and citizens. The Apostle Paul explains:
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing. Render to all what is due them: tax to whom tax is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honor to whom honor. (Romans 13:1-7 NASB)
There is one critical difference between a citizen’s relationship with government and a person’s relationship with the Lord: governments generally do not expect citizens or subjects to become co-equal partners in running the country. The Founders of the United States may have intended something like that in creating a government of the people, by the people, and for the people, but they still had to establish authority structures and work out how that authority could be exercised in constructive rather than oppressive ways. It would not do for citizens or states to exert complete sovereignty on their own, defining or discarding laws and statutes as they see fit. That would bring chaos and destruction, as the nation learned in the bitter Civil War of 1861-65. In this American system there must be a single, overriding authority to exercise dominion over the entire nation, but under it there must be sovereign states which exercise power responsibly over their own spheres of authority. And perhaps it is in this ideal that we see the arrangement God intended for His nation and, through Israel, for the world. He is the Sovereign, establishing the standards by which the universe operates, but to reflect, extend, and magnify His glory, He desires partners to govern under His authority with delegated authority of their own over the sphere He has designated. That is why He established His Law, expressed in Torah, and required His people to abide by it. The standard has not changed. If anything, the New (or Renewed) Covenant, instituted by the Blood of Messiah Yeshua and the gift of the Holy Spirit, have enabled His people to mature to the point that they can actually live by His Law without bleeding over into legalism or falling away into the errors of cheap grace.
This is something the Lord lays out in the next instructions of Moses. Deuteronomy 12 begins with strict commands to destroy every vestige of pagan idolatry practiced by the nations of Canaan. They are abominable in the sight of YHVH, and certainly we would agree when it comes to things like child sacrifice and temple prostitution. Yet these nations practiced other things that might be considered good in the eyes of humans – things like festivals of celebration revolving around special times of the year. The problem God foresaw was that participating in such seemingly innocent practices could lead to a plunge into the same kind of idolatry and abomination that caused the Lord’s ultimate judgment on the Canaanite/Amorite civilization. Such a thing had happened before, just weeks earlier in the sin of Baal-Peor, when certain Israelites entered into fellowship with the people of Midian and Moab, and ended up participating in sexually charged cultic worship rites of the heathen gods of those people (Numbers 25:1-18; Deuteronomy 4:1-4; Psalm 106:28-30; Hosea 9:10). That is why He included this non-negotiable clause in the Torah:
The rest of Deuteronomy 12 explains that the Lord will choose a place where He will set His Name, and that all the people should go there to worship Him with their sacrificial offerings. We know from the testimony of Scripture that the Lord designated Jerusalem as that special place (I Kings 6:1; II Chronicles 7:12; Psalm 78:68-70, 132:13). He has not changed His mind. There has been no Temple for nearly 2,000 years, and it may be that such a thing has happened so that the people of God may learn what Yeshua said: to worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24). That is truly what YHVH has wanted all along, if we may understand correctly His emphasis on circumcision of the heart and of right attitudes toward Him (Deuteronomy 10:16, 30:6; Jeremiah 4:4; Psalm 51). The Temple and the priests and Levites who serve in it are but the visible signs of things that should be going on in the hearts of all of God’s people. When that sign or symbol and the acts that we do within it become the focus of our attention, then our worship becomes ritual, and the Creator becomes nothing more than a distant shadow. That, perhaps, is why the Temple had to be removed for a time, so that the people of God could learn by twenty centuries of experience that His true Temple is in our hearts. In time, though, there will be a new Temple where His people are to bring offerings and worship Him in spirit and truth.
It is easy enough to get caught up in the particulars and forget the Real Thing. The rest of Re’eh is filled with particulars, such as:
- How to slaughter meat properly, being sure to avoid eating blood (Deuteronomy 12:15-28)
- Uncompromising vigilance to remove idolatry from the land, even if that means capital punishment and destruction of towns that engage in idolatry, but only after thorough investigation according to due process of law (Deuteronomy 13:6-18)
- Reiteration of what God defines as food (Deuteronomy 14:1-21)
- Instructions on administering the tithe to care for the Levites, widows, orphans, and strangers, and to facilitate worship of the Lord (Deuteronomy 14:22-29)
- Instructions on how to remit debts and release bondservants at the end of the Shemitah (Sabbatical Year) (Deuteronomy 15:1-18)
- Specifications on consecrating the firstborn of all livestock to the Lord (Deuteronomy 15:19-23)
- Reiteration of the Feasts of the Lord, with special reminder that the feasts of Unleavened Bread, Weeks (Pentecost, or Shavuot), and Tabernacles (Sukkot) are “pilgrim feasts”, when every male among the nation is to appear before the Lord at the place He designates for worship (Deuteronomy 16:1-17).
That is quite a bit of instruction. Whole libraries have been written on the meaning and application of each commandment. Jewish practice in regard to these instructions has tended toward “legalism”, which means observing the laws and the traditions of men built around them as an end in themselves rather than as a means to point people toward our Creator. Christian practice has tended to disregard these instructions, considering them no longer applicable to a people freed by the blood of Jesus from any kind of legal restrictions. However, Christians have done no differently than Jews in building up traditions and doctrines of men. Whether it is the Baptist prohibition on drinking alcohol, or the Catholic requirement for confession to a priest, the proper form of baptism, or any number of traditions, these traditions and doctrines have gained the force of law. Those who follow them religiously often do so without actually studying the Word of God to see how the Creator’s requirements differ from these manmade traditions. And thus we have division among the people of God as each segment thereof hold up their own peculiar traditions and doctrines, using them as badges of distinction to separate them from other portions of His body.
This is where we get to those divisive words of Moses. In the midst of this Torah portion we find the reason why Jews have a hard time following Yeshua:
If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, “Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,” you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has counseled rebellion against the Lord your God who brought you from the land of Egypt and redeemed you from the house of slavery, to seduce you from the way in which the Lord your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from among you. (Deuteronomy 13:1-5 NASB, emphasis added)
This is the great “Deuteronomy 13 Test”. If anyone wonders why Jews cannot accept Jesus as Messiah, this is it. The average Jewish man or woman could not explain this; all they know after 2,000 years is that Jews and Christians are different, and that a Jew who “accepts Jesus” ceases being a Jew for some reason (a reason that seems not to apply to Jews who become Buddhists or pagans or atheists, all of whom are still considered Jews regardless of their beliefs). Those who do know the Scripture could point to this passage and explain that since Christians do not keep Torah, then they must be following a different god. If we get down to the basics, “keeping Torah” means worshipping God in the way He explains in this passage: on His Shabbat, during His feast days, and at the place He designated. It means eating only what God says is food, not anything that looks good for food (Genesis 3:1-6). It means taking care of the weak and needy: the widows, the poor, the orphans, the strangers, and those who do the service of the Lord (the Levites). And it means executing justice properly, according to God’s standards of righteousness, but tempered with His mercy. That is Torah, and that is what observant Jews expect Torah-keepers to do.
Do Christians keep Torah? Yes, and no. In terms of the “weightier matters of the Law”, justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23), Christians have done rather well. It is the externals, the easy things, that have become abomination to Christians – the parts about keeping Shabbat and the Feasts, and about what is clean and unclean for food. The rejection of these standards are what cause Jews to reject Christianity as a foreign religion. It does not help that misguided Christians in times past compelled Jews to convert to Christianity, and to prove their conversion by eating pork and working on Saturday. Those practices only hardened the perceptions that the Christian God was someone other than YHVH.
Yet Christians do worship YHVH, and Yeshua, the One they revere as the Son of God. And here we arrive at another point of division. If the “Deuteronomy 13 Test” is the Jewish standard to define the people of God, then the Christian standard must be what the Apostle John wrote in his first Epistle:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God; and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God; this is the spirit of the antichrist, of which you have heard that it is coming, and now it is already in the world. (I John 4:1-3 NASB, emphasis added)
This is why Christians have a hard time accepting Jews. Since Jews cannot proclaim that Yeshua of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Christian tendency is to consider Jews as outcasts and rejected by God. It does not help that Christians have considered Jews to be “Christ killers” for nearly two millennia. Let us think about that for a moment. Are all Jewish people really “Christ killers”? Did all of them reject Yeshua of Nazareth and conspire to assassinate Him? No, absolutely not. The Scripture record shows us that certain corrupt leaders among the Jewish people conspired to kill Yeshua because they saw in Him a threat to their power and authority. They are the ones who rejected Yeshua, and they succeeded in co-opting a large portion of the people in Jerusalem at the time to go along with their plot. Later, when word about Yeshua’s true message became known, many thousands of Jews became followers of the Way Yeshua established. These included priests, teachers, Sanhedrin members, and thousands of others who loved Yeshua and remained “zealous for the Law” (Mark 15:42-44; John 7:45-53; Acts 6:7; 21:20-24). Even those who did not become Yeshua’s disciples looked closely at His teachings and the teachings and acts of His followers to see if there was anything contrary to Torah therein, and they found nothing objectionable (Acts 5:33-42, 23:1-9). What we must conclude is that it is the religious men on both sides – Jewish and Christian – who sought to bring about and perpetuate this division so that they could maintain their own corrupt power over the people of God.
But how are we to get around this aspect of John’s letter that the spirit of antimessiah (antichrist) denies that Messiah Yeshua has come in the flesh? Let me offer a way, although time will tell whether it is correct. John did not say that those who deny Yeshua’s divinity would be considered of the spirit of antimessiah, but rather those who deny Yeshua’s role as Messiah. In other words, Yeshua of Nazareth walked on this earth as a human being, fulfilling much of the promised work of Messiah in making a way for exiled Israel to be restored into relationship with God the Father. In some Jewish circles, it might be appropriate to say Yeshua completed the work of Messiah Son of Joseph (Moshiach ben Yosef). What is yet to be fulfilled is the work of Messiah Son of David (Moshiach ben David), who will come as the Lion of Judah to bring final judgment on the enemies of YHVH and reestablish the entire nation of Israel (all Twelve Tribes) in the land under His reign. Yeshua of Nazareth did not do that, and thus we arrive at another reason Jews have a hard time accepting Him as Messiah.
Now we get to the thing that Jews and Christians are both awaiting: Messiah’s coming to restore the Kingdom. Jews think He is coming the first time; Christians and Messianic and Hebrew Roots believers think He is coming the second time to complete His Messianic work. Yet we are all expecting the same thing! Could we make this the basis of reconciliation and agreement among us? It requires humility and love and mercy on the part of all of us. Christians must come to terms with the applicability of all of Torah to all of God’s people, and Jews must come to terms with the Messianic work of Yeshua of Nazareth in bringing an alienated world into relationship with YHVH. It is a hard thing on both sides, but if we are to move forward in our God’s plan for this world, and if we are to survive to see its completion, then we need to find ways to act as one people. When we do, we will find that we all have missed a good friend for far too long.
Ho! Every one who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money come, buy and eat. Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in abundance. Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, according to the faithful mercies shown to David. Behold, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. Behold, you will call a nation you do not know, and a nation which knows you not will run to you, because of the Lord your God, even the Holy One of Israel; for He has glorified you. (Isaiah 55:1-5 NASB)