The Dilemma of the Ger: Commentary on “Has an Ancient Biblical Status for Non-Jews Reemerged After 2500 Years?”
The Torah Awakening among Christians is creating something the world has not seen for two thousand years: a growing body of non-Jewish people who are doing the best they can to live by God’s eternal standards (His Torah – Law, Teaching, Commandments), but who do not intend to convert to Judaism.
What is the world to do with such people? Perhaps the more immediate question is, what are the Jewish people and the State of Israel to do with such people?
Dr. Rivkah Lambert Adler explored these questions recently in an article for Breaking Israel News. Her article, “Has an Ancient Biblical Status for Non-Jews Reemerged after 2500 Years?”, presents the biblical concept of ger, (גָּר, Strong’s H1616), or foreigner, as a possible status for Torah-keeping non-Jews. Dr. Adler and I have shared some correspondence on this question, and hopefully will be able to continue that conversation in a point-counterpoint discussion. Here is my initial offering.
According to Strong’s Concordance, a ger is a “sojourner; a temporary inhabitant, a newcomer lacking inherited rights; of foreigners in Israel, though conceded rights”. The implication is that such people are not Israelites, not Hebrews, and not members of the nation or commonwealth of Israel.
This is where we run into several issues. The easy path is to argue these points, but that is not necessarily the wisest path. What we all need is the path of wisdom and reconciliation, and that is what I hope to investigate.
Strange things happen when disciples of Jesus (Yeshua) awaken to their identity as Hebrews. One phenomenon is that they begin to see the Two Houses of Israel throughout the Scripture from Genesis to Revelation. Judah (Yehuda) and Joseph (Yosef) have been rivals since the days of their youth, when Judah led his brothers in putting Joseph into a pit and selling him into slavery in Egypt (Genesis 37:18-28). By the time of their reunion over twenty years later, Joseph had become the leader of a foreign nation and Judah had become the leader of Jacob’s family. Their father Jacob formalized that division before he died, passing on the birthright and the family name to Joseph and to his son Ephraim, but giving the rulership to Judah (Genesis 48:8-22; 49:8-12; I Chronicles 5:1-2).
The division of status did not work out well. In time Judah’s descendant Solomon began to oppress all the other tribes of Israel, and Joseph’s descendant Jeroboam led ten of the tribes in rebellion against Solomon’s son Rehoboam (I Kings 12:1-19). For the next 250 years the nation was divided into the Northern Kingdom of Israel, led by the tribe of Ephraim, and the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The Ten Tribes of the Northern Kingdom eventually fell into such wicked idolatry that YHVH pronounced a sentence of national death on them: He allowed the Assyrian Empire to conquer them, and then dispersed them into every nation on earth. Judah, however, remained a people, although they lost their national sovereignty in the Babylonian Conquest. They regained sovereignty for a time before the Roman era, but the Jews for the most part were a wandering people until the State of Israel came into existence in 1948.
But what happened to Joseph, or Ephraim as that people are also called in Scripture? They are still dispersed in the nations, but it seems that they are awakening to their identity. In fact, it seems that such was the main purpose of Messiah Yeshua’s ministry 2,000 years ago. He Himself said He had come to the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel (Matthew 15:24) – something that brings to mind the prophecies of Micaiah the man of God to Ahab the wicked king (I Kings 22:15-18), and of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 50:6).
What has happened over the last two millennia is that the Lost Sheep and many of their companions among the Gentiles (nations) have been found. Through Yeshua they have joined themselves to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The next step in the process is the awakening of these formerly Lost Sheep to the full revelation of their identity as Israelites – as Hebrews. From there is is but a small step to eager anticipation of their reunification with their Jewish brethren of the House of Judah. That is happening right now, in our day.
Jewish sages have long taught about two messiahs revealed in the Tanakh (Old Testament). One is Messiah Son of Joseph (Mashiach ben Yosef), the suffering servant who will take the punishment for Israel’s sin and covenant-breaking departure from YHVH’s standards of righteousness (His Torah). The other is Messiah Son of David (Mashiach ben David), the conquering king who will regather and restore the scattered tribes of Israel, subdue the nations under his rule, and bring the resurrection of the dead. That is the message of such passages as Isaiah 11, Daniel 7:13-14, and Psalm 110, whereas Isaiah 53 is the quintessential passage describing the work of Mashiach ben Yosef, the Messiah whose life and ministry was prefigured in the life and ministry of Joseph.
Since Yeshua of Nazareth suffered greatly, even to the point of death as a criminal through a horrendous miscarriage of justice, it would seem that He fits the description of Mashiach ben Yosef. The question is whether He is also Mashiach ben David. That is the position of Christians and those who come from and align with the Christian position on Yeshua (including this author). Jews do not see it that way. If they even consider Yeshua to have fulfilled any messianic function at all, it would be Mashiach ben Yosef. We can all agree that Yeshua has not completed the work of Mashiach ben David; the entire world is still awaiting the coming King of Israel who will arrive in power and great glory. How fascinating that Christians, Jews (Messianic and non-Messianic), and Hebrew Roots believers are all waiting on the same Mashiach ben David. The only disagreement seems to be on that Messiah’s identity.
Let us consider for a moment what Yeshua’s work as Mashiach ben Yosef might mean for the many hundreds of thousands of people around the world who consider themselves non-Jewish Hebrews. If they are Ephraimites of the House of Joseph, then that introduces a whole new dimension on Yeshua’s redemptive work. Just as the story of Joseph prefigures the life, death, and resurrection of Yeshua, so also the story of Yeshua prefigures the national life, death, and resurrection of the House of Joseph. If one day is as a thousand years to the Lord (Psalm 90:4; II Peter 3:8), then we are now nearing the end of the third day since the Northern Kingdom’s national death in 721 BCE. Are we therefore witnessing the Northern Kingdom’s resurrection as the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel return to national life as a people?
Much has been written on this, and much more will be said and done in the days to come. For now, consider these illustrations of New Testament passages in the context of the Two Houses, the Two Sticks, and the Two Brothers coming together as their Father in Heaven has promised.
This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am going to take the stick of Joseph—which is in Ephraim’s hand—and of the Israelite tribes associated with him, and join it to Judah’s stick. I will make them into a single stick of wood, and they will become one in my hand. (Ezekiel 37:19 NIV)
From Pete Rambo on natsab:
I have just started reading Angus Wooten’s Restoring Israel’s Kingdom, a book that promises to deepen my understanding of who I am and what my Father’s business is.
In the comments on the cover credit (artwork of the two sticks being made one, Ez. 37:15ff), I saw a neat paradigm shifting idea: the house of Israel was scattered into the nations for disobedience. If they were sown as Israelites, what makes us think they’ll be harvested as anything other than Israelites?
In fact, the Scriptures attest, over and over, that God’s intent is to restore the whole house of Israel. See Acts 1:8; Ez. 37:24ff; Deu. 30; Is. 2:1-5; Eph. 2:12, etc…
If God will harvest Israelites, what might they look like?? Hmmmm…
© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2014-2016. Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Barking Fox Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Are we living in the time of the end that humanity has anticipated for millennia? It seems so, at least according to the wars and rumors of war and all the other signs students of prophecy have expected. Yet it is also the time of the beginning. In Messiah Yeshua’s discourse recorded in Matthew 24 and Mark 13 He spoke of these things as birth pangs. What is being born? Isaiah helps us understand:
Who has heard such a thing? Who has seen such things? Can a land be born in one day? Can a nation be brought forth all at once? As soon as Zion travailed, she also brought forth her sons. “Shall I bring to the point of birth and not give delivery?” says the Lord. “Or shall I who gives delivery shut the womb?” says your God. (Isaiah 66:8-9 NASB)
Isaiah and Yeshua speak of the birth, or rebirth, of the nation of Israel, YHVH’s chosen people through whom He will work redemption for all nations. Part of that nation has already come into being: the Jewish part known as the State of Israel, which is the restored House of Judah. What the world is awaiting now is the restoration of the rest of the nation: the non-Jewish tribes of the House of Joseph, also called the House of Ephraim, who have had no national existence since the Assyrian Empire annihilated the Northern Kingdom of Israel over 2,700 years ago. And yet Scripture addresses the rebirth of Ephraim and their reunification with Judah more than any other prophetic topic. The Almighty Himself even stakes His own Name and reputation on fulfilling this mighty act (Deuteronomy 7:7-8; 9:5-6; Jeremiah 16:14-21, 32:41-42; Ezekiel 36:22-32). The “time of the end” therefore must really be a “time of the beginning” as these children of Joseph (in Hebrew, b’ney Yosef) awaken to their identity and begin to come together as a nation once again.
The worst fate a person can endure? That would be loss of self. It is not the same as selflessness, a desirable state of humility which YHVH honors. Loss of self means removal of what defines a person as a person. We see this in loved ones who slip slowly away through the ravages of progressive dementia. Little by little they forget who they are until in the end there is nothing left of them but the memory carried in the hearts of those who once knew them. It is a tragedy as old as humanity.
Some of our best stories spring from this loss of identity. Nearly 2,500 years ago Sophocles dramatized this phenomenon in Oedipus the King, a tale of a man whose birth was accompanied by a prophecy that he would kill his father and marry his mother. The parents attempt to circumvent the prophecy by ordering the infant slain, but to no avail. Oedipus is saved and brought up by foster parents, completely ignorant of his identity. Eventually he fulfills the prophecy. When at last the secret of his identity is revealed, his mother commits suicide and Oedipus puts out his own eyes.
This motif of hidden identity and forgotten knowledge manifests not merely in classic Greek drama, but in every literary form. It appears even in fairy tales, where protagonists like Beauty’s Beast and the Frog Prince lose their humanity. Rapunzel’s prince retains his identity, but he wanders in blindness. Similarly, Hansel and Gretel lose their way in the forest despite their best efforts. Princesses also succumb to identity loss, as we learn from Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. Even Cinderella’s true station in life is a mystery to her prince.
The fairy tales generally have happy endings, or at least the Disney renditions make them so, but that is not the case in every tale of this sort. One might say this identity issue is a perpetual human condition. We make it worse by ignoring our history, severing the connection with our fathers and mothers of ages past. This ignorance, whether self-inflicted or imposed by other forces, is the foundation of George Santayana’s famous warning, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”. It is also a reflection of prophetic truth uttered by two men of God in the 8th century BCE:
My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. (Hosea 4:6 NASB)
Therefore My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge; and their honorable men are famished, and their multitude is parched with thirst. (Isaiah 5:13 NASB)
One wonders whether Lewis Carroll required chemical substances to help him create the absurd worlds of his literature. Readers of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and audiences of the screen and stage adaptations thereof often conclude that the author – whose real name was Charles Dodgson – must have been on opium or some other sort of mind-altering substance fashionable in Victorian England. If we are to believe the Lewis Carroll Society of North America and other authoritative sources, there is no truth in such allegations. How, then, could a rational man come up with such outrageous fiction, creating characters and situations that defy logic and even sanity? Most likely Carroll would have explained in the same way C.S. Lewis explained how he could create the diabolical correspondence of the demon Screwtape a generation later:
Some have paid me an undeserved compliment by supposing that my Letters were the ripe fruit of many years’ study in moral and ascetic theology. They forgot that there is an equally reliable, though less creditable, way of learning how temptation works. “My heart”—I need no other’s—“showeth me the wickedness of the ungodly.” (C.S. Lewis, 1961. The Screwtape Letters with Screwtape Proposes a Toast. New York: MacMillan.)
What Professor Lewis tells us is that all humans have the capacity to imagine evil, and to act upon it once it is imagined. Evil is abnormal; the opposite of good and right and true. If our hearts are inclined toward evil, they are also inclined toward everything else that is contrary to good and right and true – things which are unsuitable, wrong, and illogical. That is why Carroll can depict an absurd criminal trial with such success. The King and Queen of Hearts sit as judges to determine the guilt or innocence of the Knave, who stands accused of having stolen the Queen’s tarts. As judge, the King has trouble getting beyond his instructions to the jury to consider the verdict before any evidence has been given. As witnesses, the Mad Hatter and the Knave say nothing of substance, and throughout the trial no one seems to care that the stolen tarts are there in the courtroom, presumably having been returned by the thief. The trial ends with a mockery of due process of law as the Queen says, “Sentence first—verdict afterwards”, and then pronounces summary judgment on Alice: “Off with her head!”
The sad thing about this trial is that it is not far removed from reality. For much, perhaps most, of history unjust judges have made people’s lives miserable and shorter than they should be. This is true even for judges among the people of God, which is why in promising to restore His nation of Israel, YHVH delivers this glowing promise:
“Then I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning; after that you will be called the city of righteousness, a faithful city.” Zion will be redeemed with justice and her repentant ones with righteousness. (Isaiah 1:26-27 NASB)
The 1970 movie Little Big Man, starring Dustin Hoffman, follows the story of Jack Crabb, a white boy adopted by a Cheyenne warrior and raised among the Indians with the name Little Big Man. Jack spends his life moving between the very different worlds of his native white frontier people and his adopted Indian family. At one point, when he is back again among the Cheyenne, Jack takes a wife named Sunshine. The two live happily for a time, but then Sunshine persuades Jack to marry her three widowed sisters. Jack reluctantly agrees, and soon becomes head of a very large household. One day, as he wanders through the camp pondering his circumstances, he encounters an old enemy, the warrior Younger Bear whom he has inadvertently shamed many times. Thinking he at last has an advantage over Little Big Man, Younger Bear boasts, “I have a wife. And four horses.” Jack answers as if in a daze, “I have a horse . . . and four wives.” And with that absent-minded answer he once again shames Younger Bear.
Little Big Man is a satire, but oddly enough it echoes something from our ancient past. Our ancestor Jacob, like Jack Crabb, left the land of his birth to seek a wife among his distant relatives. He ended up taking four wives, shaming his wives’ kin, and coming home with far more than he anticipated. Jacob’s story, however, has much greater significance than the ribald satire of Little Big Man. His life is a continuous string of prophetic pictures illustrating what happens to us, his offspring.
Walking Through The Open Gate
An Enduring Standard
We see from Scripture that the Creator’s processes are lengthy, thorough, and often completely different from what humans desire or expect. This should not be a surprise. YHVH says quite plainly that His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. Nevertheless, He does tell us what we need to know, and He reveals things at the appointed times to those who bother to seek Him. What we often learn is that the answer has been there all along, but we have never understood it correctly until the right time and until we approach with the right heart. When it comes to the purpose of the Lord’s processes regarding His people Israel, the answer has been staring at us for about 3,000 years. He spoke it through Moses to prepare the people for their first great meeting with Him at Sinai:
In the third month after the sons of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. When they set out from Rephidim, they came to the wilderness of Sinai and camped in the wilderness; and there Israel camped in front of the mountain. Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel.” (Exodus 19:1-6 NASB, emphasis added)
Managing Expectations: Case Studies in God’s Processes
Ancient Hair Care
One of the most colorful characters in the Bible is Samson, the Judge of Israel from the tribe of Dan. His story is in Judges 13-16. It begins like this:
Now there was a certain man from Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had no children. And the Angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said to her, “Indeed now, you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Now therefore, please be careful not to drink wine or similar drink, and not to eat anything unclean. For behold, you shall conceive and bear a son. And no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” (Judges 13:2-5 NKJV, emphasis added)
No Idle God
Fast, Cheap, or Good?
Let us step back a bit and consider why the Creator of the Universe would allow this people He has chosen to languish in exile for a seemingly indeterminate period of time. Better yet, let us consider why the Creator created the people on this earth in the first place. Judging from the numerous references in Scripture about God taking a bride it would seem that He is seeking a co-regent to help Him run the universe. At the very least, the Bride of our King has a destiny to have dominion over the earth. That, after all, was the first instruction YHVH gave to our ancestors in His Garden. Beyond that, there is very little to tell us what He really wants. We know quite a bit about this seven thousand year experiment called human history, both how it has unfolded in the six millennia that have preceded us, and how it is to take shape in the last millennium under Messiah’s direct rule. But then comes eternity, with a new heavens and a new earth. What would God want us to do in eternity? Sit around and play harps, stuffing our mouths with whatever tastes good and with no fear of consequences? Probably not.
Is The Time Now?
Expectations of Messiah
Let’s think for a moment why the disciples would ask Yeshua if the time had come for Him to restore the kingdom to Israel. This question does not even enter the consciousness of the average Christian. That is because Christian theology over the last 1,700 years has taught that Jesus Christ completed the work of the promised Messiah by dying for the sins of the world and returning to life on the third day after His crucifixion. This is a standard feature of Christian belief across the entire spectrum of traditions, from Catholic to Orthodox to any of the thousands of Protestant permutations, whether conservative or liberal. At the heart of this interpretation are the words of Yeshua just moments before He died:
After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit. (John 19:28-30 NKJV, emphasis added)
A person who had no knowledge of the rest of Scripture might assume from these words that Yeshua meant He had accomplished everything He had been sent to earth to do, and thus would conclude that everything Yeshua did as recorded in the Gospels was all that Messiah was supposed to do. Yet that is clearly not the testimony of the Prophets, nor does it match the expectations of the Apostles. Messiah Yeshua did indeed accomplish the crucial tasks of salvation and redemption, but He did not complete the work of restoration. Even though Christian traditions teach that Messiah will return at the end of the present age to rule the world, for the most part the teaching is scanty on details. The emphasis usually is on the events leading up to Messiah’s return, but skips over the extensive prophecies regarding how Messiah will rule from Jerusalem, and about life under His rule. Moreover, the typical Christian perception is that those prophecies have little relevance to the church, being only for Israel (meaning the Jews), or having already been fulfilled somehow.