When Brothers Don’t Get Along
On December 4, 2015, the B’Ney Yosef Region 35 Conference convened at Camp Copass in Denton, Texas, for the purpose of bringing together people in the central part of the United States to seek YHVH’s direction about His Kingdom work at this time. The initial concept was to continue in the spirit of the First B’Ney Yosef National Congress in the interest of building Ephraimite (Israelite) identity among believers in Messiah Yeshua. The Holy Spirit quickly expanded that concept into a call for repentance within the Hebrew Roots/Two House movement and reconciliation with other parts of the body of Messiah, particularly with our Christian brethren. That was the motivation for this address which opened the conference.
The best boss I ever had was the man under whose supervision I served the last time I was in Iraq. He was also the most profane man I have ever met. The name of Jesus Christ was for him but one weapon in a formidable arsenal of expletives. Not a single day passed that some outrage did not fall from his lips, causing my ears to burn and my heart to wonder how long I would have to endure such offense. And yet I continued in his service, not merely because I had no choice (both of us, after all, were soldiers assigned to serve together), but because God gave me grace to look beyond the offense to see and benefit from the substantial qualities he possessed. Those qualities included an encyclopedic knowledge of intelligence functions and procedures based on decades of hard experience. He possessed as well a dogged determination to persevere through all opposition and achieve success in whatever goal he or his superiors established. That determination sprang from his undying loyalty to the United States of America, and to his belief in the ultimate good of our mission in Iraq. Yet none of that would have mattered in the least had this man lacked the greatest quality of all: he regarded every person as having intrinsic value, and as a potential ally in achieving the goals set before him. He may have spoken roughly, and even in private moments vented his frustration and anger, but he never diminished the value of the human beings in his charge, nor of those under whom he served.
We had occasion to work with military and civilian officials from a number of services and agencies. Whether they were Army like us, or Marines, Air Force, or Navy, they were all “great Americans” in my boss’s opinion – if for no other reason than because they had volunteered to wear the uniform and be deployed to a Middle Eastern war zone. He could not call our British, Australian, and German colleagues “great Americans”, but he did hold them in high esteem – while at the same time recognizing that the highest priorities for each of them were the interests of their own nations, not those of the United States. The true professionals among us, regardless of nationality, recognized this. We knew that at times there would be questions we could not ask and answers we could not give, but whenever and wherever possible we helped one another.
That “great American” description did extend to the civilian intelligence professionals we encountered. Those men and women represented nearly all of the 16 agencies of the U.S. Intelligence Community. The ones you would expect were all there: each of the agencies of the military services, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the National Security Agency (NSA), the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency (NGIA), the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and the State Department. Our office dealt mostly with the CIA, whom my boss lovingly called, “Klingons”. Like our foreign counterparts, they, and all the other intelligence agencies, had their own priorities which were not necessarily the same as ours in the Department of Defense. Their vision of how to support the national interests of the United States sometimes clashed with ours, and the means and resources at their disposal often put them at an advantage over us. We had much reason to distrust them, but we had even more reason to work with them – just as the Start Trek heroes found reason to cooperate with the Klingons to defeat their common enemies.
We laugh at the description of the CIA as Klingons, but long before I arrived in Iraq I understood exactly what my boss meant. Early in my tenure in Washington, DC, I had occasion to work with the CIA on a joint project. Most of the people with whom I worked were intelligence analysts, people not very different from myself. They were well educated, often from privileged backgrounds, highly academic (a reflection of the CIA culture), and professionally courteous. As part of our project we had to consult with a different type of CIA employee. This person was not an analyst. Intelligence analysts look at information from various sources and put it together in different ways to understand what it means. They are the friendly face of the CIA. There is another face, however, and it is not very friendly. That face belongs to the operators, the men and women who go about the difficult business of collecting the information. They are consummate professionals, very good at what they do, but they are not the kind of people you would want in your social circle. Quite often the name by which they introduce themselves is not the name their parents gave them at birth. In the course of their duties they will have to do some questionable things, and perhaps even some very unpleasant things, to acquire information their agency has commissioned them to gain.
This was the kind of person with whom we met in that office on the CIA campus in Langley, Virginia long ago. He was an impressive man, and one whom I admired for his courage and devotion to his country. I could tell without asking that he had suffered much personal loss in service to the nation, and that my own poor service paled in comparison to his. Yet we could not be friends, and we would have difficulty working together as colleagues. His world was one I could not enter, and my world was one he would not find comfortable. Nevertheless, my work could not continue without him, and without me his work would have no meaning. That is why I have never forgotten the man, although our paths have never crossed since that day.
What would happen if this vast intelligence community in the service of the United States of America ceased to function as designed? What if the various individuals and organizations within it forgot that they were all Americans, and instead placed their own personal agendas, or the name and reputation of their own agencies and services, above the interests of the country? That is not a rhetorical question; I can tell you what would happen. I have seen it. What happens is a fragmentation of the national intelligence establishment.
For the most part that establishment consists of good, honest people trying to do the best they can with limited resources and time. They have a tendency to focus exclusively on the work right in front of them, whether it is office administration, counterterrorism analysis, national technical means of information collection, the number of tanks in the Russian Far Eastern Military District, or poppy production in Afghanistan. They forget that there is a wider world out there, and that their work is but one small piece in a very, very big puzzle. It does not take much to convince them that their piece is the most important. Once convinced, it is but a small step toward competing with others to gain a greater share of attention and resources. Having entered that arena, it is nothing to begin pushing others aside in ever more aggressive ways, taking resources and people away from them so that one’s own piece of the puzzle grows in size and importance, and the competitors’ pieces shrink, or disappear altogether. In time the picture that emerges is distorted at best, magnifying certain things to the extreme, diminishing others, and ignoring important bits that would otherwise tie together the seemingly contradictory reports from various sources. That is the picture which goes before high level decision makers like the commanders of our forces in the Middle East, and even the President himself. Is it any wonder, therefore, that we have national disasters such as the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001?
My lesson from this should be clear. National defense is a team effort. I know my part of the effort, and my job is to do it to the best of my ability. I do not know most of the millions of others involved in the effort, nor do I understand what they do. I could not do what most of them do, nor could most of them do what I do. Very few of them could be considered my friends, and most of them would probably never want to associate with me anyway. Nevertheless, we need each other: every warrior, every clerk, every mechanic, every technician, every lawyer, every cook, every aviator, every logistician, every sanitation worker. If we do not find a way to cooperate, then this living, breathing organism we call the National Defense Establishment will fail, and with its failure the United States of America fails.
Is this any different from the living, breathing organism known as the Body of Messiah?
This presentation is supposed to give you my thoughts on the Torah portion VaYeshev (And He Settled, Genesis 37:1-40:23). If you know that portion, then you understand that I have just given you my thoughts. These chapters of Genesis tell of our father Joseph: how he was called by the Lord for a special purpose; how his brothers grew jealous of him and tried to kill him; how they decided instead to sell him as a slave into Egypt; and how he suffered great injustice in that foreign land. It tells as well how YHVH preserved his life and prospered him even in the midst of his suffering. It tells also of our uncle Judah: how his failure to shepherd his oldest sons resulted in their deaths; how his fear for the life of his third son and his unrighteous heart resulted in his public humiliation by his daughter-in-law; and how YHVH used even that deplorable situation to advance His redemptive purposes. I hope you know the story well enough, and the stories that come before and after these chapters. They tell of a dysfunctional family. Not just any family; it is our family.
If you understand nothing else from this message, please capture this in your heart and soul: the stories of our father Jacob’s family are our very own family history. Jacob is Israel, and Israel is the grandson of Abraham (Genesis 32:9-10, 27-29). The clear record of Scripture is that all who receive by faith the salvation offered freely by the atoning death and resurrection of Yeshua our Messiah become part of that family and nation (Romans 9:1-11:36; Ephesians 2:1-22; Galatians 3:15-29; I Peter 2:4-10). What else would the Apostle Paul mean when he says we are grafted in to this olive tree which is Israel (Jeremiah 11:16)? Why else would he imply to the Greek believers in Corinth that the ancient Israelites were their fathers, and that they would do well to learn from their example (I Corinthians 10:1-13)? The same exhortation applies to us right here, right now. If we do not acknowledge the fact that in Christ we are Abraham’s seed, and that Abraham is just as much our father as he is the father of the Jews, then we are missing the main point of our existence on this planet and our eternal call.
I say “in Christ” for a reason. This is a Hebrew Roots conference, so you might expect me to avoid such terms as Christ, Jesus, church, and Lord. Normally I would, but I want to make a point. Very simply it is this: nearly 50 years ago, I trusted in the name of Jesus Christ to translate me from the realm of death to the realm of eternal life. Is that name no longer valid? Has it somehow lost its power to bring salvation simply because we in this movement have come to understand that our Savior’s mother called Him Yeshua? If it has lost its power to save, then why are we not going out on the mission field to tell all those Christian workers that their efforts are in vain? But if it has not lost the power to save, why are we afraid to speak it?
Some may say that “Jesus” is a form of Zeus, and that by speaking that name we are honoring a false god. Do not believe them. Jesus is the English transliteration of Iesous, our Messiah’s name as rendered in Greek. I contend that He is quite pleased to be called by many names, just as long as we call on Him in the purity of our hearts. If we can believe the testimony of the Apostle John, when He appears in glory at His second coming He will be called by a different name anyway, and no one knows what that is (Revelation 19:11-13). Let us not, therefore, let His Name be a cause of division among us – and especially a cause of division with our Christian brethren.
This gets to the heart of my message tonight. What happened in those stories in Genesis is happening to us right here, right now. Look at our father Jacob’s family and see for yourselves. Reuben, his oldest son, became so sure of himself as the heir to the family fortune that he took too many liberties, even to the point of going to bed with his father’s concubine (Genesis 35:22, 49:3-4). For the rest of his life he sought in ever more sad and ridiculous ways to earn his way back into his father’s good graces. The next two sons, Simeon and Levi, let their passions overwhelm their wisdom and ended up slaughtering a city over a point of honor (Genesis 34:1-31; 49:5-7). Their legacy was dispersal throughout the nation, always living at the mercy of their brothers. Seeing this, Judah, the fourth son, thought that he might be next in line to inherit the family name and fortune. It was not to be; since the sons of Leah, Jacob’s first wife, had disqualified themselves, Jacob conferred the honor of heir apparent to the oldest son of his second and beloved wife, Rachel. No wonder Judah led the conspiracy to sell Joseph into slavery (Genesis 37:25-28).
Joseph was no saint either. He acted with all the humility, wisdom, and grace of a 17-year-old boy who knows he is his father’s favorite. We know from the testimony of Scripture that the dreams he received were legitimate communications from the Almighty, but we also know that he had no business boasting about them to his brothers. Perhaps he wanted to reinforce his perceived authority over them, or merely to swell his youthful ego, but the result was tragic for the entire family. Such is the consequence of truth yelled into ears not ready to receive it. Such also is the consequence of being right without mercy or love. The story tells us that Joseph brought a bad report to our father Jacob about his brothers Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher (Genesis 37:2). No doubt the boys were neglecting their duties, but did Joseph have to tattle on them? Shepherding is hard work, and boys will be boys. Did the sheep suffer at their hands? We do not know, but I can speculate. It would seem to me that Joseph used his privileged position with his father to cast his brothers in a bad light. Instead of working with them to encourage better animal husbandry – with enough free time built in to play – he chose to emphasize their faults and make himself look better in his father’s eyes. He could have saved himself the effort and the grief. He was already his father’s favorite, and it was clear he would be the heir. Moreover, the four brothers about whom he spoke were the sons of the concubines Bilhah and Zilpah, not of the two wives Leah and Rachel. They were no threat to Joseph; they could not inherit unless he himself were dead. Which, of course, was why they had no qualms about joining the conspiracy to eliminate Joseph from the family.
We do not hear in this portion about Leah’s youngest sons, Issachar and Zebulun. We must assume that they also willingly joined in the conspiracy against Joseph – perhaps also thinking they could increase their standing and their own shares of the family fortune if he were out of the way. Neither do we hear about Joseph’s younger brother, Benjamin. He was only a child at the time, probably not free to leave his father’s tents without supervision. What we learn of him later, or at least of the tribe he fathered, tells us of a defiant, independent streak that tended toward self-destruction. It was Benjamin, after all, that instigated the disastrous civil war in the days of the judges that nearly annihilated an entire tribe (Judges 19-21).
What do you suppose our father Jacob thought of all this? We know he was well aware of the holy call on his life and his family. What did the Lord tell him? Upon his return to the Promised Land, God Himself met our ancestor and said this:
“Your name is Jacob; you shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” Thus He called him Israel. God also said to him, “I am God Almighty; be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come forth from you. The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give it to you, and I will give the land to your descendants after you.” (Genesis 35:10-12 NASB)
This was not their first meeting. Jacob’s previous encounters with the Lord reiterated the covenant promises given to his grandfather Abraham and his father Isaac (Genesis 12:1-3, 15:1-6, 26:1-5, 28:10-17; 32:24-32). He knew that his destiny was not merely one of greatness, but one of redemption for the entire planet for all time. Failure to live up to that calling carried eternal consequences. Knowing that, I can imagine Jacob looking at his sons, and then looking up to heaven, shrugging his shoulders, and saying, “And this is what you give me to work with?” No wonder he sought to cultivate the best and brightest of his sons to step into the role covenant leadership. The man was desperate, not wanting to fail his God nor the hope of his ancestors. And when his own flesh and blood brought him news that his hope had perished, supposedly through the teeth and claws of wild beasts, he was crushed beyond recovery. The petty bickering and jealousies among his sons had divided the family, and finally had resulted in the death of the heir. No doubt he suspected their complicity in Joseph’s fate. If they had not killed him themselves, then they had failed to go look for him, or to offer him any help. If they could find his torn coat, why could they not find his body? The suspicions gnawed at his mind and his soul, leaving him ever more isolated from his sons, and ever more vigilant in his protection of Benjamin, his one remaining hope.
What would have been the alternative had Jacob’s sons been more mature, more loving, more godly? What if they realized that only one could inherit the name, and only one could be the leader, but that all could share in the family legacy? What if they understood that each one of them had something indispensable to contribute to the family’s continued existence and success? What if they had worked to support one another rather than to tear each other down? Maybe, just maybe, if that had happened, then the entire family could have played a role in saving far more people from the famine that devastated the world than Joseph was able to save on his own.
Do you see the connection with us right here, right now? We take pride – pride I said – in the fact that the Sovereign God of the Universe has opened our eyes to certain truths that have been buried for centuries under the traditions of men. We are privileged with the understanding that his Shabbat is a sign of His eternal covenant, and that His Moedim, His Feast days, reveal Messiah in ways that our church upbringing never touched. We are blessed with faith to seek out the underlying principles of every commandment in the Torah so that we may live righteous lives and be ready for Messiah’s Kingdom protocols. But what have we done with these blessings? Have we blessed one another, or have we used them as weapons to wound one another? Do we give grace when a brother or sister says the Sacred Name in a way different from our preferred pronunciation, or do we break fellowship believing they are in error?
And what do we do with our brethren in the churches who have no clue whatsoever about the deep things of God’s Word which we have learned? Do we bless them with friendship, or do we revile them as pagans and sun worshippers? How dare we say such a thing about the Lord’s anointed? Did they not also call on the Name of Jesus to be saved? Are they not also seeking to live holy lives? Why then do we have the temerity to judge the servants of the Living God?
Let me put this another way. Where are the Two House hospitals and clinics in cities where our Baptist and Methodist brethren have yet to establish medical facilities? Where are the Hebrew Roots orphanages in villages our Catholic brethren have not yet reached? Where are the Ephraimite soup kitchens and homeless shelters in neighborhoods as yet untouched by the Salvation Army? What reason do we have to criticize our brethren when we have yet to place one single Ephraimite aid worker in the refugee camps of Iraqi Kurdistan? Why are we so insistent on compliance with our version of the calendar when there are hungry people in our neighborhood who will resort to anything just to feed their children? What do we expect our Messiah to do when He returns – reward us for our right doctrine, or reprimand us for leaving others to labor alone at tasks where we should have been willing to help?
We call ourselves Israelites, and that is correct, but all too often we fail to realize that the name of Israel carries with it certain responsibilities and consequences for failing to meet those responsibilities. We are becoming aware of those consequences. We know now that we have been scattered into the nations because we failed to obey the commands of our heavenly King. Everything that Moses prophesied in Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26 has come to pass, but there is one thing I would call to your attention at this moment. We find this among the curses that have come upon us and our fathers for our disobedience:
Then you shall be left few in number, whereas you were as numerous as the stars of heaven, because you did not obey the Lord your God. (Deuteronomy 28:62 NASB)
It is true that our people have been devastated over the centuries through war, famine, pestilence, and the beasts of the earth. It is most noticeable in the history of our brethren of Judah; who can deny that the Jewish people have suffered immeasurably, even before the horrors of the Shoah? Yet we have suffered as well, and in this is a mystery. If, as we assert, all true believers in Messiah Yeshua of Nazareth are members of the commonwealth of Israel, then how can we be few in number as Deuteronomy 28:62 maintains? There are over two billion people on earth who claim to follow Yeshua, or Jesus, in some form. That does not fit the description of “few in number” by any stretch of the imagination. Does that mean the curse is lifted?
Not entirely. If it were then we would be back in the Land now, enjoying our inheritance with our brother Judah. The truth is, we really are few in number, and we have done it to ourselves. We point with derision at the tens of thousands of Christian denominations and sects, and perhaps with justification. The history of Christendom is in part a history of division as one part of God’s people gain revelation of scriptural truth but another part resists it. If you want to know more about that, read the history of the Reformation and Counter Reformation. The worst catastrophe to fall on Germany before World War II was the Thirty Years War, a conflict that lasted from 1618 to 1648. Germany was the battleground for the endless series of campaigns fought by all the nations of Europe. By the time the war had ended, one fifth of the German population had perished. Do you know what started the war? It was a question about how to worship Jesus, a question which the princes of the day politicized and manipulated to their own advantage. And thus Europe was treated to the spectacle of Messiah’s disciples spilling one another’s blood for an entire generation.
The difference today, four centuries later, is that we do not spill blood; we restrict its life-giving flow. Do you wonder why our assemblies feature only a handful of people, perhaps a few dozen at most? Is it, perhaps, because we are no better than our fathers at extending the hand of fellowship while overlooking offenses? No wonder we are few in number. It is not that the commonwealth of Israel is few in number, but rather that each division within it, whether Jewish, Christian, Messianic, or Hebrew Roots, considers itself the only remaining part. Satan has no need to destroy us; we are doing well enough on our own.
Brethren, it is time to stop doing the Adversary’s work for him. We long for reunification with our brother Judah, but we are in no means ready even to speak to the Jewish people. We are hardly qualified to speak to our Christian brethren, but we had better try. Let us concentrate on that for now. I am not saying that we should return to Sunday church. There is good reason most of us have been called out of the institutional church. The Lord also had good reason to call Moses out of Egypt. One reason was to prepare him to lead our ancestors out of slavery and into covenant fellowship with their Creator, but the other reason was even more basic: He had to make sure Moses stopped killing Egyptians!
Why are we no longer part of the institutional church? Because we could not learn the things we have learned if we had remained there. What we have learned is radical and contrary to so many traditions, and we have all suffered the results of sharing that radical learning with our family and friends. We have been wounded along the way, and we have inflicted a number of wounds as well. Thus it was best that we move away for a time, having freedom to let the Holy Spirit do His work of healing and maturing in us. Now, perhaps, we have matured to the point that we can reach out to our brethren and explain in love why we left in the first place. And when I say explain in love, I do not mean with the expectation that they will stop all Sunday worship services and begin observing Shabbat. What I mean is that we are active and intentional in our efforts to associate with the people who serve the same God we serve. Do we want to enrich their lives with the blessings we have received from Torah? Do we want to help them be more effective laborers in our King’s vineyards? Do we want to share in and contribute to the resources our God has built up to reach a lost and hurting world? Then we will stop demeaning our brethren and start ministering to them.
How do we do that if we are not going to become members of a Sunday church? Well, first of all, if the Holy Spirit is leading you to go back into a church, then follow His lead! If Yeshua could associate with tax collectors, prostitutes, and religious bigots, then surely we can associate with people who praise His Name.
Short of church membership the possibilities are nearly endless. A Bible study is one. Do you know a friend or family member who leads a Bible study? Join them. They may never look into the Old Testament, but if you know your Scripture well enough you can enlighten them with observations from the Tanakh that have never entered their minds before. You can explain why the Apostles used example from Moses and the Prophets in their writings. You can demonstrate the truths of Torah that Yeshua taught and lived out in the Gospels. All the while you must do so in love, knowing that the brethren around the table with you do not share your understanding of Scripture, but they are brethren nonetheless. You will be surprised not only at what the Spirit gives you to speak, but also at what you learn. Perhaps the greatest thing you will learn is that we are so close in our beliefs, and that the reason for our separation pales in comparison to the reasons for our cooperation. Best of all, you will gain a position of trust in which, eventually, you can explain in love that you no longer celebrate Christmas, but you have found Jesus in Passover and Tabernacles.
Then there are ministry opportunities. We Torah-keeping Yeshua followers do not do that very well. It is not that we don’t want to do it, but rather that we are so small and fragmented that we do not have the resources. But our Christian brethren do. They have the missions outreaches, the homeless shelters, the hospital visitation ministries, the crisis pregnancy centers, the prayer networks, and more. What prevents us from connecting with these existing ministries and contributing to them? The people being helped will not care whether the help comes in the Name of Jesus or of Yeshua, and neither will our King. He just wants someone to be His Hands and Feet, regardless whether they have correct doctrine. What prevents us from doing so in concert with like-minded sisters and brothers?
Let me tell you what happens when we do these things. We build trust, we build respectability, and we remove doubts about our integrity. I have learned through years of experience that it is hard to criticize someone when you are praying with them and for them. So have others. One is a good friend of mine who was invited to teach Torah in a Baptist Sunday School. It started as a short series of lessons on finding Jesus in the Old Testament. That series stretched into six months of systematic investigation of Torah in comparison to Christian tradition. Another good friend started attending a knitting and crochet circle at a local church. The ladies there make blankets and hats for crisis pregnancy centers and cancer patients. Over time my friend had opportunity to share things about her Torah walk in a non-threatening way. She did not initiate the conversations; they just naturally occurred. Her faithfulness has opened the eyes of her fellow ministry workers, planting seeds that will grow in time. Here is one that will speak to many of you: one of the ladies in the group had been distressed for years about her daughter who had become Messianic. She was, as we might expect, dreadfully concerned that her daughter had turned her back on Jesus and become Jewish. In sharing about her walk, my friend was able to allay these fears and assure the woman that her daughter was indeed on solid ground. I submit to you that this was an answer to many prayers by both mother and daughter. My friend could speak for the daughter in ways she could not speak to her own mother, and the mother could ask questions that she would be too angry and afraid to ask her own daughter. The story is not yet finished, but it has begun well.
We are in perilous times, brethren. We cannot afford to cut ourselves off from one another any longer. The Apostles did not do so. If we can believe the record of Scripture, they continued to reach out to the Jewish community in love and respect throughout the First Century. Some received their message of Messiah’s Kingdom gospel, and others did not, but the Apostles never stopped trying. So it must be with us. Many doors to many churches are now closed to us, and it is in part because of our own doing. Some of those doors may never open, but do not let it be because we have ceased knocking.