[Editor’s note: James the Apostle provides us with a simple test to determine whether we really believe God’s promises –
But someone may well say, “You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” (James 2:18 NASB)
That is the point Angus Wootten emphasizes in this brief article first published in September 1998. Either we believe what God’s promises to restore all of Israel – the Jewish and the non-Jewish portions – or we don’t. If we do, and if we take seriously the scriptural assertions that Messiah Yeshua’s disciples are adopted into Abraham’s family, not to replace the Jewish people, but to join with them so “all Israel will be saved” (Galatians 3:29; Ephesians 2:8-21; Romans 11:25-26), then this will become our motivation in seeking God and His will for our lives.
So is it true? You be the judge. In 1897, only dreamers like Theodor Herzl believed Israel would be reborn as an independent nation, yet it happened 50 years later. When Angus wrote this article, no one would have believed that Arab nations would drop their demands for a Palestinian state before normalizing relations with Israel, and yet the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain have done just that. What new realities are before us? Those who believe the promises of God should be the ones who make those realities come to pass.]
Fishers of Men! How Many Fish Must We Catch?
By Angus Wootten – September 1998
Walking by the Sea of Galilee, Yeshua saw two brothers. Simon who was called Peter. and Andrew, his brother. casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. And He said to them. “Follow Me. and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matthew 4:18)
We who follow Yeshua. like Peter and Andrew, also must be fishers of men! We must gather the number of “fishes” needed to fill the “fullness” Paul establishes for the salvation of all Israel (Romans 11:25-26)!
How big is that job?
It’s really big! In this century alone we have seen the great effort required to return some five million Jews to their own soil – Jews who for two thousand years were, at best, second class citizens in the lands in which they were scattered. And now, having returned to their land. they are first class citizens of one of the most powerful nations on the planet.
So we ask, what would happen if thirteen million more Jews, and, one hundred and thirty million non-Jewish Israelites (Ephraimites), also were returned to their own soil? How big would that job be? Moreover, is one hundred and thirty million a realistic number for the Ephraimites?
John M. Stembridge. former Mayor of North Miami and current President of Aliyah and United Zionists International, in a recent letter to the Miami Herald, commented on a front page article by Martin Merzer. In it, Merzer said Zionism’s new mission is to unite the world’s Jews. But, Stembridge replied that Merzer did not go far enough, and that Zionism’s new mission is to educate and unite all Zionists: Jew and “Gentile” alike. Also, Stembridge defines a Zionist as anyone who believes God gave the land of Israel to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and to their descendants, as an inheritance forever.
Interestingly, this man also says the world Jewish population outside Israel is thirteen million, with nine million being in the United States. And. as for “Gentile” Zionists [his name for Ephraimites], Stembridge gives a figure of one hundred thirty million, with forty million being in the United States.
He further believes the problem with Zionism today is, ignorance to the nearly 1000 Biblical prophecies in which God calls all these Zionists back from the nations – and to their promised land of Israel. Stembridge says, without this knowledge, it is impossible for secular leaders, whether political, industrial, labor, management, media, religious, etc., to understand the intricacies involved in healing the breach in Abraham’s family.
From now forward, world Peace and Economic stability is dependent upon Israel’s Peace and regathering. Israel will never be at peace until its neighbors can accept the regathering of the world’s Jewish and Gentiles Zionists as brothers rather than as enemies that they want to drive into the sea or whose blood they want to spill on its Holy soil. Therefore it behooves every government, industry, religious. and cultural leader, locally and worldwide, to become actively involved in establishing Justice with Peace in the Middle East and around the world. Failure in this mission will bring nothing less than a Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Holocaust as never experienced in human history. Mankind that survives this Holocaust will, at best, start from the dark ages once again.
John Stembridge surely has a vision. And, he closes his letter by asking that God grant us the knowledge, wisdom, and empowerment to succeed.
Likewise, each of us should have a God-given vision, one filled with the knowledge, wisdom and empowerment required to succeed. Further, a key ingredient to our success must be action. For, action is required to accomplish one’s vision!
A Vision of the regathering of Israel without action is but a dream. Yet, action without a vision can be a task of drudgery and futility. But, a vision coupled with action can result in the regathering of all Israel.
What is our task?
To insure that each of those thirteen million Jews and one hundred and thirty million “Gentile” Zionists (or whatever the true number) realize who they are. For, to get the job done, they need not only to love the God of Israel, the land of Israel, and the Jewish people, but they need to understand that they too are Israel. They also need to return to their own soil to complete fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy about the regathering of all Israel. For Yahveh has sworn:
I Myself shall gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and shall bring them back to their pasture; and they will be fruitful and multiply . . . they will no longer say, “As the Lord lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of Egypt,” but, “As the Lord lives, who brought up and led back the descendants of the household of Israel from the north land and from all the countries where I had driven them.” Then they will live on their own soil. (Jeremiah 23: 1-8)
In that great day of regathering, Ezekiel’s two sticks will have been made one in the Father’s hand (Ezekiel 37:15-28). Predictions that Ephraim will once again “be a mighty man,” that he will “return to the lands promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in such numbers that there is no more room for him” will all be but history (Zechariah 10:10.17).
Fishermen arise! Prepare your nets! For a great and glorious fishing expedition lies before us!
[Editor’s note: The default mode in our perceptions of the world tends to be focusing on the small part of a subject that we understand well – or think we understand. Whether it is politics, economics, parenting, theology, or any other realm of human endeavor, people seem to prefer remaining in their comfort zone of what is familiar, thus leaving the bigger picture out of their calculations. This is why men and women of vision are so remarkable, and often misunderstood. They see the big picture, and they try to make sense of all the different, seemingly contradictory, parts of that picture.
Angus Wootten was such a visionary. Having caught a glimpse of the big picture of God’s plans in restoring the kingdom to Israel, and what that means for redemption of the whole world, he strove for much of his life to explain this in terms everyone could understand. Having spent some time in Africa with the US Army, he developed a fascination with elephants, so it’s not surprising that a familiar elephant story provided the background for his explanation of the prophesied Latter Days, or End Times. Angus wove that story into the last piece he ever wrote for publication: the Foreword to his wife, Batya’s, book, A Door of Hope for the Last Days. Although the book is not currently in print, we share Angus’ Foreword in tribute to a brother who labored all his life to help God’s covenant people achieve ever greater unity while celebrating their diversity.]
Looking Through a Door of Hope
By Foreword to A Door of Hope for the Last Days
By Angus Wootten – September 2014
We would all like to know what the scenario will be for the ending of this earthly drama that started some six thousand years ago in the Garden of Eden and will end in the New Jerusalem sometime in the future.
Our Creator says, “I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say: My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please” (Isaiah 46:10, NIV).
Even though the Almighty makes known the end from the beginning, and Genesis means Beginnings, most Believers turn to the latter parts of Scripture, to the books of Daniel and Revelation for answers to their end time questions. Scripture indicates that we should begin our search in Genesis.
In addition, we are told that Messiah Yeshua (Christ Jesus) “must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets” (Acts 3:20-21, NIV).
Our focus has long been on when the restoration will happen rather than on who is being restored and what are they being restored to. Perhaps it is time to shift our focus.
As we seek to understand the end times, we suggest thinking in terms of a puzzle. The first step in putting a puzzle together is to gather all of the pieces. And, an accurate scenario must include all of Israel’s as yet unfulfilled promises. YHVH said: “I will restore the fortunes of Jacob and have mercy on the whole house of Israel” (Ezekiel 39:25). YHVH wants to restore all twelve of Israel’s tribes.
Whether we are trying to put the puzzle together ourselves or reviewing another’s handiwork, to be a completed puzzle it must include all of the pieces. For this reason, we submit that most Christian end time theories are sorely lacking—because they tend to leave Israel’s full restoration out of the picture, and because they separate themselves from the salient truth that they, too, are part of Israel’s commonwealth (Ephesians 2:11-22).
Problems in discerning the end times are well illustrated by John Godfrey Saxe’s (1816-1887) version of the famous Indian legend, “The Blind Men and the Elephant.”
It was six men of Indostan,
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.
The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”
The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, -“Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ‘tis mighty clear,
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”
The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” -quoth he- “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”
The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee:
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” -quoth he,-
“Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”
The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said- “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”
The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” -quoth he,- “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”
And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!
THE MORAL OF THE STORY:
So, oft in theologic wars
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean;
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!
There are many opinions as to how the end times will play out. Like the proverbial elephant story, we suggest that most theories fail to take into account certain heretofore unseen truths about “both the houses of Israel” (Isaiah 8:14).
In A Door of Hope for the Last Days, my wife, Batya, offers some unique insights that help us to better see the big picture and to prepare our hearts for things that potentially lie ahead.  She makes no claims to have figured it all out, and feels that the only One Who has a complete picture of the end times scenario is its Author, YHVH—the One who wrote the script and the end of the play before the foundation of the world.
Batya is instead most interested in heart attitudes and in encouraging Believers in the faith. In this book, she offers some wise counsel that will help build our faith, enlarge our understanding of our call in Messiah, and help prepare us for the exciting days that lie ahead.
One major problem we often encounter in a search for end times truth is that most Christian books on the subject perpetuate the belief that it is the Jewish people alone who will go through the tribulation described in Matthew, chapter 24. They fail to realize that YHVH is still dealing with “the whole elephant,” He is still dealing with the whole house of Israel. Therefore, to understand the end, we must take into account the beginning promises the Almighty made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in regard to both their fruitfulness and the Promised Land.
Suggested scenarios, if they are to be seriously considered, must include YHVH’s promises to Judah’s brother, Joseph, as well as the regathering of scattered Israel as outlined in Hosea, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and throughout all of Scripture. Solutions must include the promises made to Joseph’s son, Ephraim, whose heirs were destined to become a “melo hagoyim,” a “fullness of the Gentiles” (Genesis 48:19; Romans 11:25).
The prophets declare that those of Ephraim, those who were once deemed to be mighty warriors in Israel, are destined to once again be like a “mighty man” (Hosea 13:1; Zechariah 10:7). While it was decreed that Ephraim would never again be a separate kingdom of people, like the father in the parable of the prodigal son, our Father longs for wayward Ephraim—and He has sworn that He will yet restore him (Isaiah 7:8; Jeremiah 31:15-28). It is prophesied that, when YHVH whistles for Ephraim, his heirs will return from the west and join with their brethren of Judah, and together, then, as a fully reunited house, they will defeat the Philistines who attack them (Isaiah 11:11-14; Hosea 11:9-11; Zechariah 10:8-10).
Any attempt to define the end times, of necessity must include the restoration of Israel’s Kingdom. Any end time scenario worth its salt must include this and much more.
We say this, and yet acknowledge that this book, like all of its predecessors, likewise will fail to properly define the whole elephant. Nonetheless, we submit its points as being essential to any hopes of grasping the subject matter. Rather than a detailed study of rapture theories, this book is about the idea of including the whole house of Israel in any proposed scenarios. We offer our points as a suggested puzzle outline, an essential framework that will help us as we seek to collectively assemble the many puzzle pieces.
Most end time books focus on an event known as the “Rapture,” or the catching away of all, or some Believers (some believe that there will be multiple Raptures). Various scenarios have this event taking place before an assumed seven-year tribulation, before its mid-way point, before the end-time wrath associated with it, or immediately following it. (Some feel there is no such seven-year period.)
Since many believe in a seven year Tribulation, Batya makes suggestions concerning the true meaning of wrath. She addresses the fact that most Rapture books lead Believers to focus on escape from this world and thus encourage fear and inactivity. They imply that Believers should essentially sit on the street corner and wait for a Rapture Bus that will one day whisk them away. They do not focus on the restoration of Israel’s Kingdom here on Earth —nor on their important role in that restoration.
We want to instead point Believers toward the ultimate victory that is promised to the whole house of Israel—because, without taking into account the full restoration and return of all twelve tribes of Israel, one simply cannot expect to understand what is yet to come. Therefore, in hopes of helping to establish a framework in which we might collectively work together, we do hereby submit with this book, our suggested “Outline of the Elephant.”
Author; Lt. Col., Retired
Saint Cloud, FL
A Door of Hope for the Last Days, originally published in 2014, is currently out of print. This is one of several works, both old and new, that Key of David Publishing hopes to make available in the future. Look for news on how you can help with these projects!
 For example, see Isa 5:26; 11:14; Jer 23:1-8; Eze 37:25; 48:1-36; Hos 11:10; Zec 10:7-8; Acts 15:16-17.
[Editor’s note: The people of God have struggled through an identity question for millennia. It comes down to this: if God has designated Israel as His only covenant nation, and only those who are part of Israel can partake of all His promises, then who is Israel, and how does anyone get to be part of it? The proposed answers are many, and often seem to be mutually exclusive. Is Israel only the Jewish people? Is it only the church, which is now “spiritual Israel,” or “the Israel of God?” Is it only people from the British Isles, or from Africa, or some other ethnic grouping? Or is it perhaps something else – something more inclusive that incorporates all who call upon the name of the Lord (Joel 2:32, Acts 2:21, Romans 10:13), somehow embracing both physical descendants of Abraham and foreigners whom God has “grafted in?”
In 1994, Angus Wootten proposed an answer based not only on his understanding of scripture and history, but his faith in a covenant-keeping God to come through on His promises. More than a synthesis of various positions, Angus crafted a balanced, logical approach that indicates how much we all have in common as part of God’s family, regardless how we got in. This article was originally published in the August 1994 edition of the House of David Herald.]
Our Heavenly Father had the Prophets Amos and Hosea deliver a message to the Northern Kingdom of Israel: “Behold . . . I will shake the house of Israel among all nations as grain is shaken in a sieve, but not a kernel will fall to the ground” (Amos 9:9). And ultimately, He said, “Israel is swallowed up; they are now among the nations like a vessel in which no one delights” (Hosea 8:8).
Even earlier the Psalmist had warned: “They did not listen to the voice of Yahveh . . . Therefore He swore to them, that He would cast them down in the wilderness, and that He would cast their seed among the nations, and scatter them in the lands . . . [For] they did not destroy the peoples, as Yahveh commanded them, but they mingled with the nations, and learned their practices” (Psalms 106:25-27; 34-35).
Knowing that we can only please Yahveh by faith (Hebrews 1 12:6), we have no alternative but to accept that the foregoing prophesies have been fulfilled, and that the following promises are either now being fulfilled, or at some future date will be fulfilled: For He says the scattered peoples will cry out: “Save us, O Yahveh our God, and gather us, from among the nations, to give thanks to Thy Holy Name, and glory in Thy praise” (Psalms 106:47).
The Psalmist also gives the reason why Yahveh answers this prayer: “For He remembered His holy Word with Abraham His servant; and He brought forth His people with joy, His chosen ones with a joyful shout. He gave them also the lands of the nations, that they might take possession of the fruit of the peoples’ labor, so that they might keep His statutes, and observe His laws” (Psalms 105:42-45).
Even though we are required to exercise our faith, we can contemplate on how Yahveh did, and will, fill the many prophesies about the scattering and regathering of the people of Israel. And, in regard to their regathering, we can attempt to ascertain whether we might have a role to play. So let us start our investigation from the most advantageous position possible: that of a graduate student of the House of David. A graduate student is one who has read In Search of Israel, The Olive Tree of Israel, and issues of the Herald, and fully understands the basic teaching of House of David: That there were in Scripture, and still are two houses of Israel, Ephraim and Judah, and that it is Yahveh’s plan for them to be reunited into one house, which becomes the restored kingdom of Israel.
We are starting from the vantage point of understanding that Israel today is separated into two houses, of which many are still scattered among the nations. Today, those of the house of Judah are primarily scattered among the Jewish people, while those of the house of Ephraim are primarily scattered among the Christian people. As we well know, the initial division between Ephraim and Judah took place in 930 BC, when the united Davidic kingdom was divided into the Northern and Southern kingdoms of Israel, or Israel and Judah. Over the next two centuries, the Northern Kingdom was slowly absorbed into the surrounding nations, including Judah.
For example, during the reign of Baasha, 908-886 BC, Ben-hadad, King of Assyria, sent the commanders of his armies against the cities of Israel, and they conquered Ijon, Dan, Abel-maim, and all the store cities of Naphtali (2 Chronicles 16:4). During the same period King Asa of Judah had many from Ephraim, Manasseh, and Simeon defect to him from Israel (2 Chronicles 15:9).
It was some one hundred and sixty years later that the end came with the Assyrian conquest of the city of Samaria in 722 BC, alter a three year siege. It was at this time that the famous exile of 27,290 inhabitants of the city, taken as booty, were carried away into exile by Assyria, and settled in Halah and Habor, on the river of Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes (2 Kings 17:6). While this one exile most often forms the basis for most works that seek to explain the wanderings of the “Ten Lost Tribes,” it was by no means their only exile, and, it was neither total, nor was it final, and it surely does not constitute the entire remnant of the Northern Kingdom.
The Assyrian policy at that time was first to absorb areas and populations into the empire in place, and next to establish vassal states. When the first two policies did not work, they would take military and political control of the area, effectively neutralizing the population by deporting a portion of the people: which basically included the leadership, soldiers, and all those capable of being a threat to Assyrian control. These exiles were replaced by the importation of foreign colonists, those who were exiled from their own lands. And then, as today, there was a continual voluntary movement of people for economic reasons.
Hezekiah, King of Judah 7l5-686 BC, reinforces the fact that the deportation of the Northern Kingdom was not total. As a young man, Hezekiah had observed the gradual disintegration and capitulation of the Northern Kingdom as the Assyrians advanced southward. He realized that Israel had been taken captive because of her disobedience to Yahveh’s laws. Therefore, Hezekiah was concerned that his people renew the covenant they had broken. And also, attempting to heal the breach that had separated Judah and Israel since Solomonic times, he sent letters throughout the land inviting the people to come to Jerusalem for the Passover. Although some ignored Hezekiah’s appeal, many responded, coming from Asher, Manasseh, Ephraim, and Issachar, as well as from Judah.
So, the population of the area which comprised the former kingdom of Israel consisted of many elements: remnants of the peoples which the Israelites had failed to destroy when they took the land, remnants of the Israelites, Assyrians residing in the land, foreign colonists imported by the Assyrians, and those who had moved into the area for economic reasons.
Then, in 586 BC, we have a virtual replay of the fall of Israel, with Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Judah, along with several deportations of portions of the population of Judah to Babylon. Then, seventy years later, in 535 BC some of the descendants of those deported to Babylon began to return to Jerusalem. Next we see the temple being rebuilt and the reestablishment of Judah as a recognizable people who became known as “Jews.”
Over the next five centuries, the only visible Israelites, and the only known worshipers of Yahveh, were known as “Jews.” So anyone, in the then land of Israel — Judea, Samaria, Galilee — or throughout the world who was called to be a worshiper of Yahveh, became known as a “Jew” — regardless of their tribal heritage. Thus, James addresses his letter to, “the twelve tribes who are dispersed abroad” (James 1:1). Furthermore, the post exilic prophets, in particular Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, and Zechariah, treated the tribes of the vanquished northern kingdom — regardess of where they were — as integral parts of the covenant people of Israel.
The description of Ezekiel’s two sticks, which represented Ephraim and Judah, indicates that each stick contained elements of all twelve tribes (Ezekiel 37:15-19). This was obviously true in Ezekiel’s day, and will be true in that day, which is yet future, when the two sticks are made one in Yahveh’s hand.
There are two key facts that must be kept in mind when attempting to track the people of Israel: One is the fact that the bloodline comes from the father. Secondly, one’s biology does not change, regardless of where the people were, or presently are, located. Also, what one believes or does not believe cannot change one’s genealogy. An Israelite forever remains an Israelite. Though an Israelite may be “lost” to the world, and even lost to themselves, an Israelite is never lost to Yahveh’s all-seeing eyes (Amos 9:9).
So, by 30 AD, when the ministry of Yeshua served to once again divide the people of Israel, only Yahveh Himself knew the genealogy of the seven million Jews that were in Judah, Samaria, Galilee, and scattered throughout the Roman Empire. Again, we know from James that all twelve tribes were represented in this number. We also know that a major portion of the Jewish people did not follow after Yeshua. And, after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD, and the loss of a sacrifice and a priesthood, they established what we know today as Rabbinic Judaism. However, one important portion our Jewish brothers retained was the title of, “Jew,” which to many people, has become synonymous with “Israel.”
On the other hand, a significant portion of the Jewish people did follow after Yeshua. In fact, history tells us that for the first thirty years the Early Church was virtually all “Jewish.” However, the influx of “Yahveh fearing Gentiles” had given the Church a non-Jewish majority by the end of the ﬁrst century.
The first thing to realize is that the Jewish people who followed Yeshua did not have a change in their genealogy. They were still Israelites, and their descendants, even to this day, are still Israelites, whether or not they care to call themselves Israelites, and whether they know it or not.
What was the tribal make-up of these two First Century groups? Realizing that only Yahveh can definitively answer this question, we are limited to reasonable assumptions and educated guesses. So, would it not be reasonable to assume that the initial tribal composition of the two groups would roughly parallel their tribal composition today? If this is true, then we have only to determine the current tribal composition to answer this question. Today, most Christians deny that they are physical Israelites from any tribe. This would pretty well rule out that they are from Judah, Benjamin or Levi, because descendants of these tribes did not receive the punishment of being lost to their identity. On the other hand, based on limited survey data, Jewish people claim heritage from the tribes of either Judah, Levi or Benjamin. Therefore, it would be reasonable to conclude that a majority of the first century Jews who followed Yeshua had a Northern Kingdom tribal heritage, while a majority of those Jews who followed after Rabbinic Judaism had a Southern Kingdom tribal heritage.
As for the “Yahveh fearing Gentiles” we ask: who were they, and where did they come from? Paul answers the question of who they were, by stating who they are: “And if you belong to Yeshua, then you are Abraham’s offspring [seed, sperm], heirs according to promise” (Galatians 3:29).
Another statement by Paul that should also be considered is, “‘you’ who were formerly Gentiles in the flesh” (Ephesians 2:1 1). The implication clearly is that “you” are no longer Gentiles in the flesh. Thus, if “you” are not now a Gentile in the flesh, then “you” must be the only alternative: an Israelite in the flesh. Was the flesh of the “you” miraculously changed from Gentile to Israelite? Or, does Paul mean: Now that you have accepted Yeshua and understand that “you” are a member of the Commonwealth of Israel, “you” should realize that “you” have always been an Israelite? Peter was quite correct when he states that Paul is difficult to understand (2 Peter 3: 16). So for now, take your pick, and reserve a more definitive answer for the day when you can talk with Paul—in the Kingdom.
Where did these “Gentiles” come from? The reasonable conclusion is that they are from that seed that was scattered throughout every nation on earth. Yair Davidiy’s book, The Tribes, is a reasonable, historical account of how much of the seed of Israel was scattered.
Why is this heritage important? If we do not know who we are, it is impossible to fully understand our mission, and it is difficult to determine how we should live. When we understand that we are an Israelite, and that our job is to prepare for the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel, and that as Israelites, we should live in the manner of Israelites, and not in the manner of Gentiles, then, we will surely be more pleasing to our Creator than those who continue to walk in ignorance—which ignorance Yahveh ordained as punishment for our forefathers, but is being removed in our day.
As a follower of Yahveh you are required to see yourself as an Israelite. And that means you must belong to one of the following categories.
Which box would you check?
[ ] I am a descendant of one the First Century “Jewish” Believers
[ ] I am a descendant of one the scattered tribes.
[ ] I am a descendant of one of the First Century Rabbinical “Jews.”
[ ] I am one of John the Baptists’ stones — whom Yahveh miraculously turned into a child of Abraham (Matthew 3:9).
One of those unfortunate traits of any generation is the tendency to ignore our elders. Those who take time to talk with and listen to parents, grandparents, and other older people often come away with unexpected blessings. After all, they have lived through experiences that everyone must encounter at some point, and thus have acquired valuable lessons to share with younger people who have yet to go through those experiences. Of course, that is what we expect. What surprises us is that the ordinary life experience of our elders frequently turns out to be the stuff of legends. Will Spires discovered this in conversation with his father. What he learned about his father’s childhood in Columbia, South Carolina, during World War II inspired him to build a coming-of-age story that resonates with readers on many levels.
Spires’ first novel, T.S. 44: The Button Tree Prophet, investigates the world of an ordinary boy from a working-class family. But then, what is ordinary about a boy losing his father on the eve of his tenth birthday? Perhaps that is what makes this novel so compelling from the first page. Travis Shipley’s life is already what contemporary readers would describe as underprivileged. His family is poor, his parents are uneducated, the Great Depression has drained his country of much of its vitality, and global war is redefining every facet of human interaction. In a world where everything that once was normal is now in transition, the merciless scythe of cancer snatches away the greatest source of stability in his young life. All that he has to help him find the right direction is a button his father gives him just before his death, charging him with the task of finding out what it means to be a button.
How Travis adjusts to this new reality is the vehicle by which Spires conducts us on a captivating journey through the convulsions impacting the urban, industrial, segregated American South of the mid-twentieth century. The fact that this Southern society is decidedly Christian – at least culturally – explains why this is a story of faith. Few stories of the South in that era could be otherwise. Christianity defines the culture for all the characters, regardless of their color, economic status, education, or even religion. That is where we find the first unique point of Spires’ novel. As Travis moves through the fog of grief and the daily reality of grinding poverty, he encounters help from unexpected sources. Chief among them is Jacob Meadows, a disabled World War I veteran who serves as the local truant officer. We quickly learn that Meadows, an observant Jew, is somehow able to move comfortably between the Jewish and Christian communities. This is surprising on several counts. First, the average reader likely is not aware that the Jewish community of South Carolina has ancient roots, going back to the earliest colonial days. Spires provides the historical background, establishing credible reason for Meadows to be simultaneously Jewish and Southern. That helps explain the next unusual point: how Jews interact with Christians in the American South. It is actually not so unusual. As a minority in every place where they have lived through the ages, Jews have learned to interact with the larger community, and simultaneously find space to be Jewish. Jacob Meadows helps us understand how that worked out in South Carolina. But then there is the strangest point of all: how this Jewish man can interact with Christians on their own terms. Spires provides not only a plausible explanation, but a very strong one. The answer comes from Meadows’ experience on the battlefields of France in the First World War, where differences of belief and practice fade in the presence of a brotherhood born of sacrificial love extending beyond the grave.
That is what makes Jacob Meadows the perfect mentor for young Travis. As unlikely as it may seem, it is he who is best equipped to help the lad through the inevitable questioning of and anger at God for the hard trials he endures. Meadows comes in at precisely the right moment, helping not only Travis, but his mother. Sarah Shipley is a woman already worn down by the ordeal of caring for her dying husband. Her new role as single parent of a precocious and willful son is all the more difficult because of her long hours at work earning just enough to pay the bills. The Shipley family needs stability and normalcy, which Meadows is willing and able to provide it in good measure. Others assist him, although not always by design. One is Alfred Patterson, a hard-nosed journalist who learns of Travis’ story, and another is Annie Wright, Travis’ classmate and neighbor, who is dealing with her own father issues. Then there is the Ragman, a black shoeshine artist whose long career as a railroad porter and as a pastor give him just the right words to speak into Travis’ life at the moment he needs them.
The encounter with the Ragman stands as one of the most poignant episodes of T.S. 44. This is where Spires deals with one of the ugliest features of the American South: segregation. Spires does not hit it head on. In fact, he does not hit any issue head on. Many aspects of life in that era are uncomfortable and even reprehensible by contemporary standards. The secondary status of African-Americans is but one. So also are the divisions between rich and poor, educated and uneducated, the powerful and the weak, men and women, and Christian and Jew. Moreover, the ubiquitous presence of cigarettes is something contemporary readers will find uncomfortable and even disgusting. Yet all these are part of the reality of mid-twentieth century America. Spires incorporates all of that reality into his story without judgment. That is one of the strengths of his work; had he engaged in judgement, his novel would be nothing more than a shrill cry for social justice that would bypass the deeper human truths he conveys. Thus we see the poignancy of the Ragman’s meeting with Travis: an old black man and a young white boy connecting on very human terms, even in defiance of the color barrier and other realities that otherwise would keep them apart.
In time, Travis finds an answer to the question of what it means to be a button. The Ragman is one of those who help him find that answer. Along the way, Travis not only receives help from unexpected sources, but finds himself helping others in unexpected ways. In the end, a tragedy that should never befall one so young imparts a life lesson that few learn even in old age: every one of us impacts multitudes of others in ways we usually do not realize. What Travis Shipley learns is that it is better to make that impact a good one by easing the burdens of others whenever possible. This opens him to what may only be described as a miraculous encounter with his Creator. Is that miracle believable? By the time Travis is ready to walk it out, the question is turned on its head. He has already come through improbable circumstances just by making himself available for God to use as He pleases. In a sense, his very survival to the age of ten is miraculous. Why, then, should he question Divine intervention at all? If it comes in small things like responding with compassion to the presence of a mouse in his room, then surely it is there in moments of great need. And that is how Travis Shipley, the unlikely Button Tree Prophet of Columbia, South Carolina, teaches us what it means to be human.
One of these days, the people of God will be amazed to learn that any power Satan retains is only that which God allows him to have, or that God’s people themselves give to him. That is the testimony of Scripture (Job 1:6-12, 2:1-10; Isaiah 14:12-20, Colossians 2:8-15; Ephesians 4:7-10; Psalm 68:18-19). It is a testimony lived out in recent centuries as Christians and Jews of all denominations and sects cling tightly to their own unique perspective of the Creator’s work, while questioning the inclusion of others with them in that work. The result is a terminal fragmentation, evident in the declining effectiveness of the church (at least in the West), and a Judaism split between an assimilated Diaspora and an internally focused observant segment largely concentrated in Israel.
The stumbling block, of course, is the Messiah – the one Christians call Jesus Christ, but whom Jews for the most part disregard. Even those who fall in between these two major elements of God’s people have their issues. Although Messianic Jews and non-Jewish Hebrew Roots adherents agree that Jesus (whom they call by his Hebrew name, Yeshua) is the Messiah, and that the Torah (teaching, instruction, direction, law) of God are still applicable to Yeshua’s followers, the agreement tends to stop at that point. Thus the terminal fragmentation persists even in this expanding space that is filling the gap between Judaism and Christianity.
Where is the remedy for this sad state of affairs? Batya Ruth Wootten offers an answer in Redeemed Israel – Reunited and Restored. Her answer rests squarely on the question of identity, a question that leads her to ask, “If our God is the God of Israel, and the Jewish people are Israel, then who is the Church?”