Tag Archive | Gentiles

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 5775 #46: Eikev (Because)

עֵקֶב

Since the first stage production of Of Mice and Men in 1937, the play has gripped audiences and readers for its deep and disturbing probe into human nature. It has also spawned innumerable parodies and references in popular culture that have diluted the power of the piece. (Photos: Lon Chaney Jr & Burgess Meredith in the film 'Of Mice and Men' in 1939, Chris O'Dowd & James Franco in 'Of Mice and Men' in 2014 on Broadway, from "Dogs, Bromance & James Franco: 12 Things Your English Teacher Didn’t Tell You About Of Mice and Men", by By Pete Croatto, April 12, 2014, Broadway.com)

John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men has gripped audiences with its disturbing probe of human nature since 1937.  (Photos: Lon Chaney Jr & Burgess Meredith in the 1939 film version; Chris O’Dowd & James Franco in the 2014 Broadway production, from “Dogs, Bromance & James Franco: 12 Things Your English Teacher Didn’t Tell You About Of Mice and Men”, by By Pete Croatto, April 12, 2014, Broadway.com)

What is this tendency of human minds to discard unpleasant things and cling to what is pleasant, nice, and amusing?  This can be useful in remembering loved ones who pass from this earth.  Whatever annoyances or difficulties they presented us in life fade from our memories, leaving only the glow of happy moments – of childhood kindnesses, of good smells and kind voices, of triumphant moments when a cooperative effort and patience brings victory over a harsh trial.  This is good, but in truth these happy things have no meaning if not set apart by the unhappy things.

This truth of life has its reflection in art.  Consider, for example, Of Mice and Men, a tragedy penned in 1937 by John Steinbeck to portray the pain of American society in the midst of the Great Depression.  It is the tale of George and Lennie, two migrant farm workers in California with a dream of owning a farm of their own one day.  From the opening of the play we see that Lennie labors under mental challenges that make him unable to care for himself.  He depends on George to keep him out of trouble and think for both of them.  All he knows is that he likes to pet nice, soft things with his fingers, and that one day when he and George have a place of their own, he can tend the rabbits they will raise.  Lennie is simple, kind, trusting, and hardworking, but he does not know his own strength.  The soft things he pets often end up dead.  At first it is a mouse, then a puppy, and finally a flirtatious woman who invites him to stroke her hair.  This last “bad thing” is something George cannot fix except by ensuring Lennie will never hurt anyone again.  The play ends as George tells Lennie one more time about the rabbits, and then takes his life.

The quintessential parody of Of Mice and Men appeared in the 1961 Looney Toons short, The Abominable Snow Rabbit". (Photo © Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., used by permission of the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity)

The quintessential parody of Steinbeck’s work appeared in the 1961 Looney Toons short, “The Abominable Snow Rabbit”. (Photo © Warner Bros. Entertainment, Inc., used by permission of the Chuck Jones Center for Creativity)

Steinbeck lived to see his sublime tragedy dismembered and parodied in superficial popular culture, beginning with animated cartoons.  As Of Mice and Men became an Oscar-nominated film in 1940, Warner Brothers gave birth to a new American icon, Bugs Bunny.  It did not take long before Lennie’s simpleminded fixation with furry rabbits became a standard feature in Looney Toons shorts, reaching a climax in 1961 with “The Abominable Snow Rabbit”.  In the cartoon Lennie becomes an Abominable Snowman in the Himalayas who encounters Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck.  Mistaking Daffy for a rabbit, the snowman picks him up and utters these now-famous words:

Just what I always wanted.  My own little bunny rabbit.  I will name him George, and I will hug him and pet him and squeeze him and pat him and pet him and rub him and caress him.

With these lines, this absurd cartoon illustrates how distorted shadows supplant what is unpleasant and tragic, leaving only a form of the truth, but lacking its power.  Those who have no knowledge of Steinbeck’s story will laugh at the cartoon, but they remain ignorant of the full context, and are thus robbed of the life lessons Steinbeck sought to impart.  The same is true of those who take the Bible in sound bites rather than in its full context, including these words of Moses:

And He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flock, in the land of which He swore to your fathers to give you.  (Deuteronomy 7:13 NASB)

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Fox Byte 5775 #45: Va’etchanan (And I Pleaded)

וָאֶתְחַנַּן

Left to right: Vittorio Orlando (Italy), David Lloyd George (Great Britain), Georges Clemenceau (France), Woodrow Wilson (United States).In a sense one might say that this present global system is Woodrow Wilson’s fault.  The Armistice that ended the hostilities of World War I on November 11, 1918, took shape after the German Empire embraced President Wilson’s Fourteen Points as the basis for negotiating peace with the Allies.  Wilson had presented the Fourteen Points in a speech to Congress at the beginning of 1918 as his proposal for ending the war and reshaping the world so that such a massive conflict could never happen again.  A better world might have been the outcome had his plan been adopted in its entirety, but, sadly, it was not to be.  Wilson personally led the American negotiating team to the Paris Peace Conference at Versailles in 1919, but during the lengthy proceedings he became gravely ill.  The other Allied leaders took advantage of his illness to turn the peace conference into a revenge conference.  Many of Wilson’s principles found their way into the Versailles Treaty and subsequent agreements, but not as he intended.  The fruit of Versailles was a vindictive dismemberment of the German, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman empires, along with a humiliating disarmament of Germany and assessment of a war reparations debt that the German nation finally finished paying 92 years later.  The Versailles Treaty did incorporate Wilson’s vision of a League of Nations, the predecessor to the United Nations, but the President’s own people rejected it.  When the US Senate refused to ratify the Treaty of Versailles, the United States turned away from an active role in managing the community of nations, thereby ensuring that the League of Nations would be nothing more than a hollow shell.

It is easy to summarize the Fourteen Points.  They call for open negotiations among nations, freedom of the seas, free trade, disarmament to the greatest extent possible, evacuation and restoration of territories occupied during the war; “autonomous development” (a fancy way of saying independence) of peoples under the rule of the world’s great empires, readjustment of borders to reflect lines of nationality, and establishment of the League of Nations to oversee this new international order.  The summary, however, does not convey the enormity of the tasks involved in implementing each point.  Consider just one point:  establishment of an independent Poland.  That single act required dismemberment of three empires; creation of a Polish government with power and resources to run the country; international recognition and assistance; and a host of other actions to ensure Poland’s unhindered reentry into the community of nations after nearly 120 years of foreign occupation.  It would be foolish to think that Wilson’s Fourteen Points were the only items under consideration in the Allies’ peace deliberations.  In truth, they were only the beginning of the process, not the end.

This should remind us of something in Scripture.  The analogy dawned immediately on President Georges Clemenceau of France.  On hearing of the Fourteen Points, he is reported to have said,

Quatorze?  Le bon Dieu n’a que dix.  (Fourteen?  The Good Lord only has ten.)

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If Not the Blood of Yeshua, What Brought Ruth “Near” to the G-d of Israel?

Landscapte with Ruth and Boaz Joseph Anton Koch (from "Bible Paintings, Ruth, Naomi, Boaz, Womeninthebible.net)

Landscapte with Ruth and Boaz
Joseph Anton Koch
(from “Bible Paintings, Ruth, Naomi, Boaz”, Womeninthebible.net)

Once again Peter Vest of Orthodox Messianic Judaism has provided thoughtful material worthy of consideration.  In a blog post published earlier this week he invited discussion on the question of whether Israel includes Gentiles brought into covenant with the Living God by the Blood of Messiah Yeshua.  What I appreciate most is how he uses the account of Ruth the Moabite, the most significant example of a foreigner who became part of Israel long before Yeshua’s work of redemption on the cross.  This is timely since Ruth is the Scripture traditionally studied at Shavuot (Pentecost), which falls on May 23-24 this year.  It is with the understanding that people from the nations are indeed brought into God’s nation of Israel that the First Ephraimite/Northern Israel National Congress will convene on the day after Shavuot to discuss how to walk out our identity as YHVH is restores the Whole House of Israel just as He promised.


If Not the Blood of Yeshua, What Brought Ruth “Near” to the G-d of Israel?

Posted on Orthodox Messianic Judaism, May 3, 2015

by Peter Vest

So I’ve been wondering about this since last evening…

Ruth the Moabite became an Israelite.  What initiated her into the People of Israel?  Her faith, G-d’s grace, right?

Ephesians 2 says that Gentiles are saved by grace and brought “near” by the blood of Yeshua so that they are citizens in Israel.  In other words, Gentiles should rejoice because they can join the People of Israel and have salvation, receiving in faith that which is given by grace.

But didn’t Ruth also join the People of Israel and have salvation?  Receiving in faith that which was given to her by the grace of G-d?

So Ruth received the benefits specified in Ephesians 2 before the New Covenant was ever given?

Here’s the real question that I’ve been leading up to:

It is written that the New Covenant is made only with Israel.  Yet Israel includes even Gentiles like Ruth who had not accepted Yeshua as the Messiah, Gentiles who belonged to Israel simply because they rejected idolatry and accepted both the G-d of Israel and the People of Israel and proceeded to live according to the Way of Life defined in the Torah of Moses (“…if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in His ways. So all the peoples of the earth will see that you are called by the name of the LORD…” Deut. 28).

QUESTION:

So doesn’t that mean that the “Israel” with whom the New Covenant was made includes Gentiles (since Israel has always included Gentiles such as Ruth)?


© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2015.  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.

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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Fox Byte 5775: Matzot (Unleavened Bread)

מַצּוֹת

The Ossuary of Douaumont, final resting place of over 130,000 unidentified French and German soldiers whose bodies were broken in the great Battle of Verdun, February 21-December 18, 1916.

The Ossuary of Douaumont, final resting place of over 130,000 unidentified French and German soldiers whose bodies were broken in the great Battle of Verdun, February 21-December 18, 1916.

It was in May of 1986 that I first visited the great World War I battlefield at Verdun.  Along with Auschwitz, Verdun is on my Top 10 list of places every human being should visit to learn the extent of evil that people can inflict on one another.  Over the course of 10 months in 1916, nearly 2,500,000 French and German soldiers flung death at one another.  Total casualties cannot be known, but the estimates range nearly as high as one million, of whom 300,000 were killed in action.  The toll does not end with the soldiers; over the course of the battle nine French villages ceased to exist, and an area the size of Manhattan suffered such devastation that the French government deemed it unrecoverable and left it to nature to repair.  To this day much of the battlefield remains a poisoned wasteland and graveyard for over 100,000 missing soldiers of both sides.

France has done its best to honor the dead.  In 1932 President Albert Lebrun opened the great Ossuary at Douaumont, one of the villages destroyed in the battle.  The Ossuary ranks among the most impressive monuments of Western civilization, attempting both to remember and honor the dead, and to remind the living of their sacrifice.  Some might consider the reminders grotesque.  Beneath the Ossuary is a crypt which contains the bones of at least 130,000 unidentified French and German soldiers.  They are there for all to see, together in death, having surrendered their lives that the lives of their nations might continue.  Of course their nations did continue , and still do, although much diminished and much broken, even as the bones of their lost sons and daughters.

Looking at these bones one might be reminded of another collection of bones – the ones Ezekiel saw in his vision (Ezekiel 37:1-14).  Can these bones live?  The Lord knows.  In some strange way the bones resemble matzah, the unleavened bread broken and eaten during this seven day feast after the Passover.  Perhaps that is part of the reason the Jewish sages paired Ezekiel’s vision in the Valley of the Dry Bones with the Torah readings for the Passover season.

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A Place at the Table

John the Baptist said that God is able to raise up children of Abraham from the very stones.  Messiah Yeshua made that possible, opening the way for all people to become part of the Seed of Abraham and  Commonwealth of Israel, regardless of physical descent.  (The Sermon of St John the Baptist, by Pieter  Brueghel the Elder)

John the Baptist said that God is able to raise up children of Abraham from the very stones. Messiah Yeshua made that possible, opening the way for all people to become part of the Seed of Abraham and Commonwealth of Israel, regardless of physical descent. (The Sermon of St John the Baptist, by Pieter Brueghel the Elder)

Last week a reader asked a very important question.  It is so important that I want to share it:

A friend introduced me to your blog.  I am a follower of Yeshua, not one of the twelve “lost” tribes but I am Torah pursuant.  I am learning to be part of Abba’s tribe.  In your writing I only hear you speak of Judah and Ephraimites (lost tribes) as being Israel.  Do you see Torah pursuant followers of Yeshua who have no provable family lineage and are from “the nations” as part of the Israel family?  Do they have a place at the table?

This question gets to the very heart of who we are.  It addresses the very thing that the Apostles and the wider Jewish community wrestled with in the First Century.  Specifically, what is the status of these people coming to faith in Yeshua from among the Gentiles?  Are they still Gentiles, or are they Israelites?  And if they are Israelites, are they also to become Jews?  And if they are not Jews, what kind of Israelites are they?

Many writers and teachers have addressed this question, and it is in fact the central question addressed in my recent book, Give Me A Place Where I May Dwell.  There is still much more to be said as we watch and participate in the unfolding of YHVH’s revelation on the subject.  As a contribution to that dialogue, here is my response:

One of the biggest things Abba is doing right now is restoring to His people the awareness of their identity.  Are you a believer in Yeshua, Son of God and Messiah?  Do you obey His commands and follow Him as His disciple?  Then you are indeed an Israelite regardless of your ethnicity or nationality.  The Apostle Paul made that clear in his letters, particularly in Ephesians 2 and Romans 9,10, and 11.  When he writes about us of the nations being grafted into the olive tree of Israel, and of being part of the commonwealth of Israel, that’s what he means.  The Jewish part of our nation (the House of Judah) have always retained their identity as Israelites and have kept the nation alive.  That is the Father’s plan, and that is why we non-Jewish Israelites do not replace the Jews, but join with them in the nation as Abba rebuilds it.  That is the meaning behind the prophecies of the Dry Bones and Two Sticks of Ezekiel 37, and of the entire book of Hosea, and of Isaiah 11, and of many, many other prophecies.

When it comes to your physical heritage, it should be a great comfort to know that lineage is no obstacle to God (Matthew 3:7-10).  Israel is His Kingdom and His vehicle of salvation for all the nations, so He has always invited people to join that nation from the time He made His first call to our father Abraham.  Today He has revealed the means by which He can accept anyone into the nation, and by which He can accept the nation itself back into fellowship with Him.  That, of course, is what Yeshua accomplished with His atoning sacrifice on our behalf, and that is why He is our King.  The truth is, neither I nor anyone else can prove with beyond any doubt that we are descendants of any of the Tribes.  Even our brethren of Judah are hard pressed to chart their lineage considering the things that have happened to the Jews over the centuries.  We have the choice of looking at all of that as tragedy and as cause for division, or of looking on it as another astonishing revelation of our God’s glory.  He is reconstructing His nation from broken pieces, gathering up the fragments just as Yeshua’s disciples gathered the fragments discarded by those who ate His bread and fish.  In time this polyglot nation of many peoples will become the nation of one people, Israel, just as our King has promised.  In fact, the nations of this earth will be absorbed into Yeshua’s Kingdom of Israel just as the prophets Daniel and John declared (Daniel 2:44-45; Revelation 11:15-18).

In time we will all be numbered among the Tribes.  As others have said, when we enter the New Jerusalem, we will be going through the gates named for each of the Tribes because there is no gate named for the nations.  All we know for now is that Yeshua’s Kingdom of Israel consists of two parts:  the houses of Judah and Ephraim.  If you are not Jewish, but you are a believer in Yeshua, then you are of Ephraim.  Tribal identification is of secondary importance.  Based on the precedent set in Numbers 1 with the first census of Israel, and of the provisions for inheritance explained in Ezekiel 47:21-23, I am inclined to believe that individual choice has a big role in tribal identity.  The first step, though, is identifying with Israel as an Israelite currently living among the nations.  If we can in all sincerity call Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob our fathers, then we are ready to move forward as God’s people.


© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2015.  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.

Fox Byte 5775 #12: VaYechi (And He Lived)

וַיְחִי

José Ferrer as Cyrano and Mala Powers as Roxane in Stanley Kramer's 1950 film  production of Cyrano de Bergerac.

José Ferrer as Cyrano and Mala Powers as Roxane in Stanley Kramer’s 1950 film production of Cyrano de Bergerac.

The timeless appeal of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac is in its depiction of selfless love.  Cyrano’s bigger-than-life character captures our attention instantly.  How could it not?  He is a man’s man – no one wields a sword as brilliantly, nor as judiciously, as this noble French warrior whose sense of right and wrong guides him to uphold the cause of those less fortunate.  Yet Cyrano is a sensitive soul, the greatest poet of his day, and one quick to win the confidence of the ladies.  Even though his overly large nose draws immediate notice, Cyrano himself is larger than this one glaring defect, and in fact capitalizes on it to win greater acclaim and honor.  But it is that defect which keeps Cyrano from the desire of his heart:  the beautiful Roxane.  Thinking himself unworthy of her, he keeps his distance, and this is the root of the tragedy that unfolds.

When Christian, a handsome cadet, newly assigned to Cyrano’s company, meets Roxane, he cannot help but fall in love.  Sadly, the young man has no skill in the art of courtly romance, and thus must ask Cyrano’s help in wooing her.  Cyrano agrees, seeing in Christian an avenue for communicating his heart to Roxane, even if she will never know the truth.  The plan works.  Cyrano’s words and Christian’s good looks win Roxane’s heart, and the two young lovers are married just as the army goes off to war.  Christian dies a hero’s death, and the broken-hearted Roxane retires to a convent to live out her days in mourning.  Cyrano visits her frequently, bringing news, yet never revealing his secret.  Then one day assassins make an attempt on Cyrano’s life, wounding him mortally as he is on his way to see her.  Knowing he is dying, he asks Roxane if he might read aloud the last letter she had received from Christian before his death.  The words of course, were Cyrano’s; it was but the last of many letters he had penned on the battlefield in Christian’s name, but with his own heart.  As Cyrano recites the letter’s contents, evening draws on and Roxane realizes it has become too dark to read the words.  Then she understands, just as Cyrano breathes his last, that it was he, not Christian, who had been writing to her all along.  With this new understanding, she exclaims, “Je n’aimais qu’un seul être et je le perds deux fois!”  And while the translation may not be exact, the meaning of her words is clear: “I have only had but one love, and yet have lost him twice.”

God, like Roxane, has but one love, and He has already lost that love twice.  Yet the tale of His love’s return is bound up in the account of the 14 blessings Grandfather Jacob pronounces over his sons at the end of his life.

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Fox Byte 5775 #11: VaYigash (And He Drew Near)

וַיִּגַּשׁ

Billy Bowlegs and Chiefs of the Seminole Indians Gleason's Pictorial, Boston, Saturday, October 23, 1852 (Source:  "Billy Bowlegs and Suite", Seminole Nation, I.T.)

Billy Bowlegs and Chiefs of the Seminole Indians
Gleason’s Pictorial, Boston, Saturday, October 23, 1852 (Source: “Billy Bowlegs and Suite”, Seminole Nation, I.T.)

It has been more than 500 years since Christopher Columbus mistakenly identified the indigenous peoples of the Americas as “Indians”, and yet that name has remained the popular collective label for the many hundreds of nations more accurately identified by their own names, such as Arawak, Pequot, Lakota, Yaqui, Quechua, and Navajo.  Many of these nations have ceased to exist, the victims of disease, war, enslavement, and cultural genocide.  Others have come into existence as dispersed and diminished peoples have merged to make new nations.  Still others have persisted in their identity to this day, enduring beyond hope as distinct peoples.  All of those things describe the Seminole Nation, which now resides in the states of Oklahoma and Florida.  The Seminoles did not become a distinct people until late in the 18th century, when remnants of the Muskogee (Creek) and other peoples of Florida and what is now Georgia and Alabama combined to form a new nation.  The Spanish called them cimarrones, meaning runaways, or free people.  This term referred to the fact that the tribe included many escaped slaves, both African and Native American, who had joined with others from broken, scattered tribes.  In the Muskogee tongue, cimarrones became semulon-e, and eventually Seminole.

This people who originally were not a people soon developed a strong sense of national identity which compelled them to resist all efforts to conquer them.  They fought against the Spanish, the English, the Creeks, and, inevitably, the Americans.  Three bitter wars from 1817 to 1858 left the Seminole Nation broken and divided, but still unconquered.  Most of the surviving Seminoles were removed by the United States government to Oklahoma, but a remnant remained in the swamps of southwestern Florida, where they remain to this day.  The Florida Seminoles are unique among Native American peoples in that they alone have never signed a treaty of peace with the United States.  Those who were removed to Oklahoma may have agreed to peace with the U.S., but they maintained a fierce independence in their new land.  Efforts to integrate them into the Creek Nation of Oklahoma met with determined resistance.  In time the Seminole remnant in Oklahoma reestablished their tribal identity, and today exist as a separate and distinct nation.[1]

It may come as a surprise, but the greatest story in the Bible is about a nation created from a people who were not a people.  The tale begins with the account of Joseph and his brothers, but the story as yet has no ending.

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Fox Byte 5775 #3: Lech Lecha (Get Yourself)

לֶךְ־לְךָ

The Man in the Iron Mask (l'illustration Européenne 1872, no.15 page 116, via Wikimedia Commons.)

The Man in the Iron Mask (l’illustration Européenne 1872, no.15 page 116, via Wikimedia Commons)

It is quite possible that the greatest literary accomplishment of the year 1844 was the publication of The Three Musketeers.  The swashbuckling adventures of Athos, Porthos, Aramis, and D’Artagnan penned by Alexandre Dumas have delighted readers and audiences ever since, inspiring dozens of stage and film adaptations.  Not quite so popular is the trilogy Dumas published as a sequel, which concluded with The Man In The Iron Mask.  The story has been told in film, with such notables as Richard Chamberlain and Leonardo DiCaprio in the title role, but it does not come close in popularity to its predecessor.  Perhaps the subject matter is the cause.  The tale concerns a man sentenced to life in prison behind a mask so that no one may know his identity.  Dumas based his novel on an intriguing footnote of French history, but with much literary license.  The mysterious man in Dumas’ story was Philippe, twin brother of King Louis XIV of France.  As the king’s identical twin his very existence posed a threat to Louis.  Therefore he was doomed by royal decree to live out his life anonymously behind a mask.  This Baroque version of identity theft constitutes a fate worse than death.  Not only is the man denied his rights as a member of the royal house, his very personhood is stripped from him, so that in time even he forgets who he is.  No wonder The Man In The Iron Mask is so disturbing; this prince of the royal house suffers a fate none of us would ever wish to share.

And yet most Christians and Jews labor under precisely such an identity disability.  We have all forgotten who we really are.

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