Finding Israelite Identity in the New Covenant

©Harper Collins Christian Publishing. Used by permission.
ReverendFun.com.  © Harper Collins Christian Publishing.  Used by permission.

Language is a perilous thing.  It can unite us, but quite often it does the opposite.  That, by the way, was God’s intent.  We know that from the story of how He created the different languages of the earth as presented in Genesis 11:

Now the whole earth used the same language and the same words.  It came about as they journeyed east, that they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there.  They said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks and burn them thoroughly.”  And they used brick for stone, and they used tar for mortar.  They said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city, and a tower whose top will reach into heaven, and let us make for ourselves a name, otherwise we will be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.”  The Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.  The Lord said, “Behold, they are one people, and they all have the same language.  And this is what they began to do, and now nothing which they purpose to do will be impossible for them.  Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, so that they will not understand one another’s speech.”  So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of the whole earth; and they stopped building the city.  Therefore its name was called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of the whole earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of the whole earth.  (Genesis 11:1-9 NASB, emphasis added)

Ever since then that curse of language has been with us.  And, by the way, so has the curse of nations.

Curse of nations?  Yes, it does seem to be a curse.  It would seem that the Lord did not intend for humanity to be scattered and separated across the face of the planet in competing factions.  Nevertheless, nations were His idea.  The story of the Tower of Babel explains why.  You’ll notice that mankind also had an idea of uniting themselves as one people, but their idea was not the same as the Almighty’s.  They wanted to be a single, unified power that could challenge YHVH for sovereignty over this planet.  Since these people lived in the generations immediately after the Great Flood, we can suppose that some of them harbored a little resentment at God’s destruction of the pre-Flood civilization.  Maybe they thought they could do things better than their ancestors, perhaps by building a strong defense that could ward off any further Divine intervention in human affairs.  Now since our God does not change (Numbers 23:19; I Samuel 15:29; Malachi 3:6; James 1:17; Hebrews 13:8), and since the eternal governing principles of the universe which He established do not change (Psalm 119:44; II Kings 17:37; Matthew 5:18, 24:34-35; Mark 13:31; Luke 21:33), He had to do something about this blatant rebellion.  There can only be one God, after all. 

The problem with sin is that it seeks to create many gods – in fact, as many as there are human beings on the earth.  That is at the heart of Satan’s insidious deception spoken to our mother Eve:  “For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  (Genesis 3:5 NASB)  Tragically, the way our Creator dealt with the deception before the Flood was to destroy humanity.  I would surmise He had little choice in the matter since all of humanity apparently was united as a single people, most likely under satanic leadership (not unlike the world we are anticipating at the end of this age when Messiah returns).  To make sure He did not have to make a complete end of the human race this time around, the Lord God created nations and then scattered them across the earth.  If they were divided in language, they would soon be divided in every other imaginable way, and the resultant wars and rumors of wars would ensure that a united human empire would not arise to defy the Living God until the end of days.  In the meantime the Living God could go about the process of cultivating His redemptive work in human hearts while they remained in the nations.

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Fox Byte 5776 #1: When Good is Not Enough

The Barking Fox just completed the annual Torah Cycle and is ready to embark on another year of Bible commentary.  Rather than embark on another systematic journey through the Torah and Haftarah, in this Hebrew year 5776 Fox Bytes will focus on selected books and topics, starting with the book of Job.

Marlon Brando as Marc Antony in the 1953 film version of Julius Caesar. (Photo: 451 Years of William Shakespeare, The Telegraph
Marlon Brando as Marc Antony in the 1953 film version of Julius Caesar. (Photo:  “451 Years of William Shakespeare”, The Telegraph)

A sad commentary on human nature is that people who stand for what is right rarely are the people with whom one would prefer to be seen in public.  We may honor such saintly persons as Mother Theresa, Billy Graham, or William Wilberforce, but we do not want to be close friends with them – or at least not let such relationships be known.  Our preference is to hang out with “good old boys”, friends who like the things we like, sympathize with our problems, and make us feel better about ourselves without actually causing us to change.  That, of course, is the problem with those saintly people:  they uphold high standards of right living which make us feel uncomfortable.  It does not matter how blessed they appear to be, or the peace they seem to enjoy in any situation, or that they give the authorities no cause for alarm.  The truth is that they are righteous, and their righteousness interferes with our desire to live comfortably and indulge whatever pleasure seems good.

Shakespeare understood this fact of human nature.  He made use of it in his masterful manipulation of the Roman public through Marc Antony’s speech in Julius Caesar.  Caesar’s assassins justify their murderous act by saying the great man was ambitious and that his ambition would have been the death of Roman freedom.  Antony seems to agree, saying “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones”, a statement that indicates whatever good Caesar would have done has died with him.  Then he turns the tables, calling the assassins honorable men – good men whom the good citizens of Rome should trust, and with whom they should be glad to associate.  Yet their honorable good pales in comparison to Caesar’s selfless ambition:  an ambition that enriched Rome through his military service, that wept for Rome’s poor, and that refused a kingly crown thrice offered.  In other words, any honor that may have accrued to Caesar’s assassins was as nothing compared to the great man’s righteousness in life and legacy in death.

We learn through Shakespeare’s theatrical Marc Antony a truth written centuries earlier to a real Roman audience by a man who also understood something about human nature:

For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.  (Romans 5:7 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #50: Ki Tavo (When You Enter In)

כִּי־תָבִוֹא

Quintus Arrius (Jack Hawkens) offers water to Judah Ben Hur (Charlton Heston) in the 1959 epic, Ben Hur. (Photo: Warner Home Video, featured in "A Day at the Chariot Races: The Digital Liberation of ‘Ben-Hur’", by Bill Desowitz, Motion Picture Editors Guild, November 21, 2011)
Quintus Arrius (Jack Hawkins) offers water to Judah Ben Hur (Charlton Heston) in the 1959 epic, Ben Hur. (Photo: Warner Home Video, featured in “A Day at the Chariot Races: The Digital Liberation of ‘Ben-Hur’”, by Bill Desowitz, Motion Picture Editors Guild, November 21, 2011)

When General Lew Wallace published Ben Hur in 1880, he had no idea that his tale of a wrongfully condemned Jewish prince would have such an impact on modern audiences.  It is a tale of redemption, being the product of Wallace’s own investigation into the validity of the Christian faith.  The epic scale of the story lends itself to the big screen, but Hollywood’s first effort at bringing Wallace’s characters to life in 1925 fell short of the mark.  It took another generation of filmmakers, capitalizing on improved technology and cinematic techniques, to do justice to the tale.  The result was William Wyler’s 1959 production of Ben Hur, a film that surpassed the achievements of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, released just three years previously.  Wyler and DeMille both worked with the same leading man:  Charlton Heston, a handsome actor known for his portrayals of tough men of action.  Heston’s depiction of Moses remains the standard for cinematic portrayals of Israel’s Lawgiver, but it was his role as Judah Ben Hur which won him an Oscar as Best Actor.

The story follows Judah in his quest for revenge after his family is unjustly accused and sentenced for allegedly attempting to kill the new Roman governor of Judea.  His mother and sister are taken to prison, but Judah is condemned to a hellish existence rowing the galleys of Rome’s navy.  After three years his ship receives a new commander, Consul Quintus Arrius (played by Jack Hawkins), who leads the fleet against pirates who have menaced the sea lanes.  On inspecting the rowers, Arrius takes notice of Judah as a man full of hate, but able to control it, a trait the Consul finds useful.  Upon concluding his inspection Arrius offers this advice:

Now listen to me, all of you.  You are all condemned men.  We keep you alive to serve this ship.  So row well, and live.

Judah finds opportunity to do more than that.  In battle his ship is rammed and sinks, but he is able to escape and save the life of Consul Arrius.  Later they learn the Roman fleet has won the day and Arrius is a hero.  He returns to Rome, bringing Judah with him in hope of repaying the debt of his life.  Judah becomes a famous chariot racer, trusted with some of his master’s most prized possessions.  In time, Arrius rewards Judah with the greatest gift he can bestow:  adoption as his son and heir. 

Eventually Judah returns home, finds his mother and sister, and avenges the wrong done to his house.  Yet it is not until he encounters Yeshua (Jesus) of Nazareth that he finds true peace.  Lew Wallace’s story is, after all, a tale of the Christ, and would be incomplete without the redemption the Messiah offers.  The roots of the story, however, go back to the time of Moses, when he spoke these words to the people of Israel:

The Lord has today declared you to be His people, a treasured possession, as He promised you, and that you should keep all His commandments; and that He will set you high above all nations which He has made, for praise, fame, and honor; and that you shall be a consecrated people to the Lord your God, as He has spoken.  (Deuteronomy 26:18-19 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #29-30: Achrei Mot (After the Death); Kedoshim (Holy Ones)

אַחֲרֵי מוֹת / קְדֹשִׁים

Dustin Hoffman's Oscar-winning performance in Rain Man introduced audiences to the world of autism.  (Photo:  Amazon.com)
Dustin Hoffman’s Oscar-winning performance in Rain Man introduced audiences to the world of autism. (Photo: Amazon.com)

How do we love the unlovely?  That is one of the questions Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise explore in Rain Man.  Hoffman earned an Oscar as Best Actor for his portrayal of Raymond Babbitt, a man with autism whose family had chosen to place him in an institution after he had accidentally harmed Charlie, his younger brother.  Because of that, Charlie (played by Cruise) never learns of his brother’s existence until after his father’s death.  Charlie is surprised to learn that his father had left most of his fortune to a trust fund that paid for Raymond’s expenses.  Determined to obtain a share of the money, Charlie entices Raymond out of the mental institution and takes him on a road trip to his home in California, where he intends to file a lawsuit for custody of his brother.  The rest of the movie is a journey on many levels as Charlie begins to see Raymond not as an easily exploitable asset, but as a remarkable human being, and as the loving and lovable brother he has missed all his life. 

The audience shares that journey thanks to Hoffman’s masterful performance.  By the end of the movie we are still a bit awkward and uncomfortable around Raymond, but we no longer think of him as something less than ourselves.  He is brilliant in his own way, far more capable with computations and connections than most of us could ever be.  In an odd way he is charming, affectionate, and even adorable.  Once we look beyond his peculiar mannerisms and grow accustomed to his unique forms of expression, we begin to see a person of great value.  Indeed he has special needs that prevent him from functioning on his own, but we learn from Rain Man that Raymond Babbitt and others like him do have a place in society.  One example of this was reported recently in The Times of Israel, in an article explaining how the Israel Defense Forces have recognized the special gift of persons with autism, and have found a way for them to make a valuable contribution to the defense of their nation.  Yet even those who are not able to make such a contribution have value.  They teach us about ourselves – what it means to be human.  We are enriched when we get to know them.

Indeed, they are our neighbors, the very people we are to love as ourselves.

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Pure and Undefiled Religion

Refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan.  (Photo:  Kurdistanonline via Rudaw.net)
Refugees in Iraqi Kurdistan. (Photo: Kurdistanonline via Rudaw.net)

The Apostle James admonishes us as people of faith to take action on that faith.  His strongest admonition comes in the first part of his letter to the Twelve Tribes scattered abroad:

If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.  Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.  (James 1:26-27 NASB)

The real question is this:  How many orphans and widows have you visited today?

The very real needs of this world stare us in the face every day.  Sometimes those needs walk right up to your car at an intersection and ask for money.  Sometimes those needs are half a world away, but still very close to the heart of God.  Here is one of them.  Her name is Myriam.

In many ways Myriam is one of the fortunate ones.  In August 2014, when the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forced her Christian family to leave their home in Qaraqoush, Iraq, they fled to Irbil in Iraqi Kurdistan.  Now she lives with her parents and sister in a mall that has been converted into a refugee camp.  The good news is that they escaped with their lives.  The bad news is that many did not, and those who did saw things that no one should ever have to see.  Many thousands are still held in the grip of violent Islamist terrorists, faced daily with harsh choices that involve death or something worse.

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