Israel 2016: A Quantum Leap Toward the One New Man
There is an old joke about Moses standing on Mount Sinai waiting the hear from YHVH. The hand of the Almighty appears with the Ten Commandments written on stone, and a great Voice says, “Take these two tablets and call me in the morning”.
It is funny because it is not a joke. We know what happened: Moses took the tablets with the Ten Commandments back to the people of Israel, but when he found them celebrating in idolatrous revelry (oddly enough, in worship of YHVH by pagan means), he threw down those tablets written by the Finger of God and shattered them.
Parents should have special insight about YHVH’s reaction to all of this. First, He punished everyone – both the instigators who provoked the people to disobedience, as well as the willfully ignorant who allowed themselves to be led astray. Even those who stood by and let it happen did not escape His notice. Do we not act similarly when our children embark on a path of foolishness that wrecks the house?
That was the negative reaction. What came next was His solution to the problem: He directed Moses to clean up the mess. Consider these words:
And the Lord said to Moses, “Cut two tablets of stone like the first ones, and I will write on these tablets the words that were on the first tablets which you broke. So be ready in the morning, and come up in the morning to Mount Sinai, and present yourself to Me there on the top of the mountain. (Exodus 34:1-2 NKJV)
In other words, “Bring two tablets and call me in the morning.”
This is the equivalent of Mom saying to her children, “Since you broke that dish with the pie in it, you get to clean up the mess in the kitchen. If you want pie, then get me another dish and just maybe I’ll put something in it.”
Except that God did not say, “just maybe”. He did fill the dish with those same Covenant parameters He had established with the first set of tablets. The difference was that Moses and the people now had a stake in those Covenant conditions. The bitter experience of cleaning up the mess (which cost the lives of 3,000 Israelites), and then of hewing two stones for Moses to carry up the mountain gave them a far better understanding of what they were getting into. Until then, they had heard the words of YHVH that they would be His special people – a kingdom of priests – but they had nothing to give meaning to those words. After the unfortunate Golden Calf episode, they had a powerful demonstration of what it means to be holy to the Almighty, and their own investment of blood, sweat, and tears into that status of holiness.
It would appear that this is the Divine pattern for the 7,000 training program YHVH instituted at the Garden of Eden. He sets the standard and explains the program – including the consequences of staying with the program (blessings) or straying from it (curses). When mankind strays as we inevitably do, He requires us to clean up the mess and set the conditions by which He can restore things to the way He intended.
It must be this way. If there were no consequences for straying from the program, we humans would be nothing more than compliant children with no initiative or creative spark of our own. That is not what God wants; He created humans to be His expression of Himself on this earth and His consort for ruling this universe. It requires considerable preparation for that role, and thus we must learn by experience. When it is all done, we will know (do we not know already?) the bitter pain we can inflict on one another and on this earth because of our disobedience. Because of that, we will appreciate forever the indescribable joy of our King’s Presence with us, and we will nevermore stray from Him.
Torah requires the testimony of at least two witnesses in every matter. In this matter, the Two Tablets are double sets of witnesses: the broken tablets testify to our brokenness before God; the restored tablets testify to His willingness to restore us, and His invitation for us to cooperate with Him in the process. In that dual testimony there is a paradox: they are simultaneously two distinct entities, but inextricably linked by the same echad – oneness, unity – that proceeds from the Father in heaven. At times one witness testifies in the negative (as in the broken tablets) and the other in the positive, but always the two point toward the glory of our Creator.
In this Israeli sojourn I have absorbed the testimony of Two Witnesses who speak of the Creator’s faithfulness to complete the redemptive and restorative work He has begun. For ease of understanding, I refer to these Witnesses as Jews and Christians. Those who are familiar with my writings will understand when I proclaim the belief that the ranks of the Ten Tribes of the House of Joseph/Ephraim/Israel (the “Lost Ten Tribes”) will be filled in large part by Christians. That is because Christians, along with Jews, have the testimony of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Today these two halves of God’s people are divided and broken, just like that first set of Tablets.
How are they to be restored? Perhaps in the same way Moses restored the original Tablets: through dedicated, loving, humble, sacrificial effort.
This effort is bearing fruit. I saw it on October 21 at a Sukkot (Feast of Tabernacles) event hosted by the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding and Cooperation at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem. Some years ago, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin had the vision of reaching out to Christians on the basis of our shared Hebraic heritage. Now the foundation he established is at the forefront of efforts to strengthen and broaden the dialogue between two peoples who are really dual expressions of YHVH’s Word.
The Sukkot event featured readings of Psalms 113-118, traditional readings for this Feast, interspersed with exhortations from the Scriptures and worship in song and dance. Among the 100 or so participants, I recognized Orthodox Jews, Evangelical Christians, and Hebrew Roots believers like myself. The differences among us are enormous, but the unity among us was greater.
Perhaps that unity was best exhibited in dance. The worship music was provided by the Portnoy Brothers, two English-born Jewish musicians who have one of the strongest anointings for worship I have ever encountered. I do not know whether they share my belief in Yeshua of Nazareth as Messiah, but I suspect they do not. Apparently that does not matter; the songs they shared carried us to a realm filled with the Holy Spirit that I have found to be rare and precious even in Christian settings. How can this be?
And how can it be that dancing with Orthodox Jews – men with men, women with women – can produce such indescribable joy of the Lord?
And how can it be that exhortative preaching from Orthodox Jews – Rabbi Riskin himself, and Rabbi Pesach Wolicki, the CJCUC’s Associate Director – can speak profound biblical truths that pierce the soul as powerfully as what I have heard from the most anointed Christian teachers?
Here is an example. Rabbi Wolicki spoke from Psalm 115. He highlighted the fact that the psalm mentions three groups of people:
O Israel, trust in the Lord; He is their help and their shield.
O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord; He is their help and their shield.
You who fear the Lord, trust in the Lord; He is their help and their shield.
(Psalm 115:9-11 NKJV)
The first group, “Israel”, is something we can understand. Rabbi Wolicki and almost everyone else in the world would consider that group to be the Jewish people. I agree; the only difference is that I believe Israel encompasses also the House of Joseph. For the present, though, our point of agreement is sufficient to permit cooperation.
The second group is also easily identified: the Levitical priesthood YHVH sanctified, and who shall continue to minister to Him in the Temple when it is reestablished.
What of this third group, those who fear YHVH (the Lord)? When he mentioned this group, I thought Rabbi Wolicki was speaking about the majority of us in the room: those of us who have come from Christian traditions. I believe he would agree with that designation, but his exhortation gave us a more profound understanding. The first person so designated was Abraham. He earned the designation at the Akedah, the binding of his son Isaac, as recorded in Genesis 22. At the point when he is ready to slay his son of promise, the Angel of YHVH stops him with these words:
And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.” (Genesis 22:12 NKJV)
As Rabbi Wolicki explained, the commandment to sacrifice Isaac on the altar made no logical or theological sense, but Abraham did it anyway. Perhaps the rabbi will take issue with the Christian teaching I have long ago embraced that the binding of Isaac prophetically depicted the atoning sacrifice of the Son of God many centuries later. Nevertheless, we agree that Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. That is what earned him the designation as one who fears YHVH – knowing that YHVH will make a way even when there is no way.
And that is how these fragments of YHVH’s Covenantal Tablets are coming together before our eyes. We who come from the Christian side would describe this phenomenon as the “One New Man”, the people who have become a people by the work of Messiah Yeshua (Ephesians 2:8-22). Our brethren from the Jewish side would perhaps describe it as strangers uniting with Israel, as did Ruth (Ruth 1:15-18).
The problem up to now is that Christians have insisted that Jews who want to become part of the One New Man must leave their Jewishness and become Christians, while Jews who know that strangers are to unite with Israel have insisted that those strangers leave their previous identities and become Jews. This is the impasse that has separated us over the ages, but it is an impasse that must somehow be overcome.
There is a simple formula by which this overcoming can happen: allow God to be God.
The impossible thing for Christians is seeing Jews as still in the Covenant of the Living God even though they do not acknowledge Yeshua’s messiahship and divinity. And yet I can attest that there are Jews I know who walk in the anointing of the Holy Spirit and give as great or greater evidence of the Fruit of the Spirit than some Christians I know. This makes no logical or theological sense from a Christian perspective, but I cannot deny the evidence I have encountered. All I know is that we serve a God Who transcends space and time, and that if it is true that He makes redemption possible through His Son Yeshua, then that revelation will one day come to my Jewish brethren.
The impossible thing for my Jewish brethren is seeing that Christians are part of the same Abrahamic Covenant even though they worship a Messiah who Judaism rejected – and even though Christians have shunned, abused, and slaughtered Jews for 1,900 years. It makes no logical or theological sense that they should trust us, and yet multitudes of Christians and Hebraic believers are doing their best to atone for that history of blood and love Israel in tangible ways – such as coming to Zion for the Feast of Tabernacles just as Zechariah said.
Here in Jerusalem during this Sukkot, the impossible and illogical is giving way to the power of a hope that visionaries have only whispered heretofore. It is a fragile and delicate hope, but in it is the promise of global redemption and restoration into the Presence of the Almighty God. The new Tablets are being hewn out of the rock. What we await now is the Finger of God to write upon them.