If Treasure Island is any indication, a young person’s transition to adulthood has always been awkward and painful. At least it was so in the 1880s when Robert Louis Stevenson wrote his story for boys. Stevenson’s adolescent hero, Jim Hawkins, has resonated with youth ever since. What boy does not dream of adventure, travelling to exotic places, deciphering mysteries, and overcoming danger? Such dreams have motivated boys for millennia in the hope that they can find their courage and discover their place in life. If the opportunities are not forthcoming then boys will invent them, if for no other reason than to establish a place for themselves in their own minds and, hopefully, in the minds of their peers.
So it is with Jim Hawkins. As the son of an innkeeper he has little hope of adventure until a strange turn of events sets him on a hazardous sea voyage in search of hidden pirate gold. Jim proves to be the hero, thwarting the mutinous plot of rebellious sailors led by Long John Silver, saving the lives of the captain and loyal crew members, and discovering the treasure. Not bad for an 18th century version of an underprivileged wayward teen.
Stevenson could not have envisioned the retelling of his story as a space travel adventure in which his hero is not merely underprivileged, but rebellious, sullen, introverted, and destined for a life at odds with society. That is the Jim Hawkins of Treasure Planet, the 2002 animated feature by Walt Disney Pictures. This space age Jim reflects the jaded, self-absorbed youth of the post-modern world. We follow Jim’s transformation from wide-eyed, joyful toddler to embittered youth. It is not a transformation he undertakes willingly. It is not his fault that his parents quarrel, but he suffers incalculably on the morning his father walks out. In an instant Jim is abandoned by the one person who could set him on the right course, leaving him to cast about for someone or something to give him purpose. In time Long John Silver the pirate fills that role as the two of them develop a relationship that proves redemptive for them both. There is a happy ending after all, but not without anguish along the way.
Jim’s angst is the subject of I’m Still Here, a song written for the film by John Rzeznik. It is an anthem for an alienated generation which does not know its identity. Cast adrift to find their own answers, these young people feel (with some justification) that their elders would rather they remain silent and invisible until they are able to join the adult world. Yet how are they to do so if no one makes the effort to guide them? Thus the youth have only two alternatives: either despair and end their miserable lives, or hang on in defiance against all expectations. Rzeznik’s lyrics tell us the option Jim Hawkins selects:
And you see the thing they never see,
All you wanted, I could be,
Now you know me, and I’m not afraid,
And I wanna tell you who I am,
Can you help me be a man? ,
They can’t break me,
As long as I know who I am.
The song ends with Jim’s defiant, yet hopeful, refrain, “I’m still here!” His defiance is not unlike Job’s defiance in the face of what he perceives to be unjust accusations by his friends:
Teach me, and I will be silent; and show me how I have erred. How painful are honest words! But what does your argument prove? Do you intend to reprove my words, when the words of one in despair belong to the wind? (Job 6:24-26 NASB)
Pompous people lend themselves so readily to ridicule. Unconsciously, of course. By their very nature they would not stoop to the indignity of common humor since it punctures the mirage of superior respectability they strive to maintain. That is precisely what makes it so easy (and so much fun) to lampoon such persons – albeit usually without their knowledge since they generally are the ones who wield power. Whether it is the official in high office, the wealthy heir, or the elderly matron, such people disapprove of anything or anyone that upsets their self-imposed definition of what is right and proper. Such definitions tend to be myopic at best, as well as inflexible, brittle, and hilariously easy to dispel. Doing so brings amusement and some measure of relief to the oppressed even though it likely will not result in appreciable change, or perhaps even notice by the butt of the joke.
Which explains why the operas of W.S. Gilbert and Sir Arthur Sullivan are still appealing. The best of their works feature masterful caricatures of England’s increasingly ossified Victorian society of the late 19th century. Perhaps the best of the best is The Mikado, a farce set in Imperial Japan, but featuring decidedly English characters and situations. This is apparent from the opening scene when a chorus of Japanese gentlemen strut haughtily about the stage singing of their lofty status. We soon learn that Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner of the town of Titipu, has a dilemma: the Mikado, Japan’s emperor, has decreed that since there has been no execution of a criminal in Titipu for quite some time, an execution must take place within a month. It just so happens that Ko-Ko is himself a condemned criminal on reprieve from execution and is next in line for the chopping block. He is “consoled” by two noblemen, Pooh-Bah and Pish-Tush. Pooh-Bah explains that his family pride calls on him to take Ko-Ko’s place, but his desire for self-preservation prevents him from doing so. Pish-Tush takes a different approach with this empathetic offering:
I heard one day a gentleman say
That criminals who are cut in two
Can hardly feel the fatal steel,
And so are slain, are slain without much pain.
If this is true, it’s jolly for you,
Your courage screw to bid us adieu.
Ko-Ko is not amused with either man’s offering, which leads Pish-Tush to confess the truth:
And go and show
Both friend and foe how much you dare.
I’m quite aware it’s your affair.
Yet I declare I’d take your share,
But I don’t much care.
That is not unlike the lamentable comfort of Job’s friend Eliphaz:
Remember now, who ever perished being innocent? Or where were the upright destroyed? According to what I have seen, those who plow iniquity and those who sow trouble harvest it. (Job 4:7-8 NASB)
Among the many things for which I frequently thank YHVH is that I got to grow up in a Southern Baptist church and a Presbyterian school. From an early age I came to appreciate the doctrinal positions of both and their roots in Arminianism and Calvinism. Concerning the key elements of free will and predestination, I concluded long ago that they are not mutually exclusive. I do not understand exactly how they work, but I do know that both are part of God’s operation in human affairs. God’s sovereignty and human responsibility intertwine in very complicated and intricate ways to produce outcomes that YHVH declares from the beginning, but which finite mankind must play out in faith and obedience – or in ignorance and despair, depending on one’s perspective.
But what if predestination means something different from what we suppose? What if it refers to the fate of a nation rather than individuals? Consider this: YHVH has promised from ancient times to establish permanently the seed of Abraham on the Promised Land in the form of a nation called Israel. Moreover, He has promised to open the way for people of all nations to come into that holy nation and be part of His eternal covenant of peace. What if predestination refers to YHVH’s intent to do this thing just as He said? If “nation” is the real object of predestination, then we have no need to speculate about whether God has chosen certain individuals for salvation and others for damnation. The way of salvation is open to all individuals through the nation He has predestined as His vehicle of salvation.
This line of thinking requires far more development than is possible in a short blog post. However, it is unquestionable that God, through Messiah Yeshua, has opened the way for every person on earth to exchange his or her identity of birth for an identity as Abraham’s children, and therefore as Israelites. This is a point Ephraim Frank explores in the following commentary.
October 16, 2015
Shalom Fellow Israelite,
Trust you all had a wonderful Succot celebration. I’m sure you have heard about the various happenings here in the land, with the spirit of violence manifesting again through Israeli Arab citizens, Arab residents of Jerusalem, and others, in the Palestinian territories and Gaza (while this spirit is not totally sidestepping Israelis either). Thank you for your prayers during these troublesome times.
As we continue into the unpredictable future (a phrase that some may take exception to), our faith and confidence in a faithful covenant keeping Elohim should reach new heights of revelation-understanding. Yeshua’s purpose in returning to the heavens was to send the Spirit of the Kingdom into the hearts of those elected and predestined for the promise of this Spirit, as is evidenced by the following: “In Him also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will…” (Ephesians 1:11). “For whom He [the Father] foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified” (Romans 8:29-30). He also “predestined us to the adoption as sons by Yeshua the Messiah to Himself [the Father], according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved” (Ephesians 1:5-6).
The question that arises from the above scriptures is, who are the predestined ones that have been called, foreknown and chosen beforehand, justified, glorified and adopted for His purposes? The apostle states very clearly in Romans 9:4-5a, when he makes reference to those “…who are Israelites, to whom belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Torah, the service of Elohim, and the promises; of whom are the fathers…“
Most of the Israelites (those who are not Jewish) have lost their identity, but as prophesied have become multitudes in many nations. Those from among them who are still lacking the knowledge or realization of their true identity will not fully understand the New Covenant, their destiny and the reconstitution of nationhood, nor the above-cited predetermined characteristics, even though what is written in Ephesians 2:11-13, concerning those who were “once far off”, but who are now part of the “commonwealth of Israel” should cause them to at least question their present (“gentile”) identity.
However, through Yeshua the Kinsman Redeemer, and the working of the Holy Spirit many are now embracing Torah, and as a result their hearts are turning back to the forefathers and to the identity (or, conversely, for others, the discovery of the identity is what restores them to the forefathers and the Torah). The light of this revelation points to the importance of reconciliation within the House of Jacob (which is the whole House of Israel). Hence efforts are being made toward the re-gathering of our nation. One such meeting took place last May in Ariel, Israel, in the form of the “B’ney Yosef National Congress”, and now follow-up summits are due to occur in Texas, Germany, and Florida. The next B’ney Yosef National Congress will be held, Yah willing, once more in Ariel Israel October 26-31, 2016.
© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2015-2016. 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.
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.
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)
The one element of Steven Spielberg’s movies which has remained just beneath my consciousness for nearly thirty years is not his stunning cinematography or compelling drama. It is a song; a simple Welsh melody which carries us through Empire of the Sun. We first hear Suo Gân (Lullaby) as the movie opens. British choir boys sing it in church in the compound reserved for foreigners living in Shanghai. The soloist is Jamie (Christian Bale), a boy of about 10. He is British by birth, but he has never set foot on his parents’ homeland. Jamie’s family live as privileged foreigners have lived ever since China capitulated in the First Opium War a century before. They take no notice of the Chinese except where their own wants and needs are concerned. Jamie, a son of privilege, knows no other way than to lord it over the natives beneath his station.
Change comes quickly when the Japanese attack. China and Japan have been at war for years, but Shanghai is undisturbed until December 8, 1941. As America’s Pacific Fleet burns in Pearl Harbor, Japan’s legions occupy Shanghai. Jamie’s family flees, but in the confusion he is separated from his parents and left to fend for himself, eventually landing in an internment camp adjacent to a Japanese airfield.
By 1945 he is no longer Jamie, but Jim, a rough lad learning to survive among the mixed multitude in captivity. Jim can hold his own, having grown accustomed to lying, stealing, cheating, and other mischief. His innocence dies bit by bit, not only through the tribulations of war, but through betrayal by men he trusts. Yet Suo Gân remains with him. One morning he awakens to see Japanese aviators participating in the ceremony of the kamikaze. Jim comes to attention, salutes, and sings the lullaby in tribute to these men who will soon die in the service of their Emperor. Their deaths come more quickly than expected. At that instant, American P-51 Mustangs, the “Cadillac of the sky”, attack, rapidly transforming the airfield into a smoking ruin. In their wake Jim pauses to consider the dreadful price he has paid to survive. With despair he confesses, “I can’t remember what my parents look like.”
At war’s end Jim finds himself in an orphanage among children awaiting reunion with their parents. Tears of joy flow, but he stands in shocked silence. His father passes by, not recognizing the hardened youth as the beloved, if rebellious, child he knew. It is his mother who sees him, first as the Jamie she loved, then as the Jim she does not know how to love, and finally as a young man with gaping wounds in his soul who desperately needs the healing that only a parent’s love can bring. He looks into her face and four years of pain and death wash away in peace beyond hope – the peace promised in the strains of Suo Gân.
All Jim can remember is the song, but it is enough to set him on the path of healing and reconciliation. So it is with the exiled, destitute people of YHVH. He also gave a song to them – a song that would carry them through time to peace beyond hope:
Then it shall come about, when many evils and troubles have come upon them, that this song will testify before them as a witness (for it shall not be forgotten from the lips of their descendants); for I know their intent which they are developing today, before I have brought them into the land which I swore. (Deuteronomy 31:21 NASB)
Isaac Asimov could have written I, Robot without Karel Čapek’s help, but he would have needed a different word for the artificial life forms featured in his writing. Asimov’s robot stories shifted the paradigms of science fiction by exploring the unintended consequences of creating something smarter and stronger than a human, but without a human’s ethical configuration. For over half a century he probed dark and difficult territory, asking questions and spinning scenarios that remain disturbingly applicable to our present reality. Yet Asimov neither invented the word “robot”, nor initiated the inquiry into the potential nemesis of unbridled technological innovation.
Bad things happen when man plays the role of God, as Mary Shelley demonstrated in 1818 with her first novel, Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus. Shelley brought the question into the modern era, but it was Karel Čapek who mechanized it. Čapek’s play R.U.R. (Rossumovi univerzální roboti; Rossum’s Universal Robots) was a success from its first performance in 1920. The play introduced international audiences to the Czech word robota, meaning hard work, a word rendered into English as robot. The play is not a comedy; in Čapek’s imaginary world the robots are manufactured life forms designed to assist humans, but eventually they rebel and extinguish all human life.
Čapek revived this scenario in War with the Newts, a novel published in 1936 as satire on the hypocritically self-serving international system which enabled Nazi Germany’s dismemberment of Czechoslovakia two years later. It is a humorously dark tale about a race of sentient amphibian creatures discovered in the waters of Indonesia. The newts prove to be swift learners and adept at a multitude of tasks, making them ideal candidates for exploitation not only as workers, but also as undersea warriors. In time the newts, like the robots, rebel, destroying the dry land and turning it into shallow waters suitable for their environmental needs. The nations of the earth find themselves in a war for survival against a global amphibian army. It is a war humanity will not win, but Čapek reveals that the victorious newts will turn on themselves and become the instruments of their own destruction, leaving a remnant of mankind to rebuild the planet.
It is frightful to contemplate the end of one’s world, particularly when the end is justly deserved. Asimov, Shelley, and Čapek relate scenarios of judgment resulting from mankind’s own selfish shortsightedness – playing God, if you will. The element of terror they invoke lurks in the revelation that the instruments of judgment are the works of our own hands. As usual, art imitates life. YHVH renders judgment on those who disregard His standard of righteousness and set up standards of their own – playing God, if you will. Judgment brings a sentence of destruction and death, which is terrifying enough. What makes it more chilling is to learn the name of the one who will bring about the anticipated death and destruction. About 35 centuries ago, the doomed Canaanite civilization experienced that very thing shortly after Moses spoke these words:
It is the Lord your God who will cross ahead of you; He will destroy these nations before you, and you shall dispossess them. Joshua is the one who will cross ahead of you, just as the Lord has spoken. (Deuteronomy 31:3 NASB)
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)
Are we really about to see the restoration of all Israel? And what exactly does that mean? If the Bible says that it means all twelve tribes descended from the sons of Jacob constituting a national entity in the Land YHVH promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then perhaps we should be looking for that very thing. That is what the apostles meant when they asked Yeshua when He would restore the kingdom to Israel.
The restoration means both Houses of Israel – the House of Judah, whom we know today as the Jewish people, and the House of Ephraim, also known as the House of Israel or House of Joseph. Ephraim consists of the Ten Tribes of Israel’s northern kingdom which never returned from exile. Most of the Bible is incomprehensible if not viewed in the context of the Two Houses. Who they were in ancient times, how they separated, and the promise of their restoration form the framework of the Gospel of the Kingdom which is supposed to be preached to the whole world before Messiah comes.
Would it be a surprise to realize that the end of the world as we know it means the beginning of the reign of Messiah over His reestablished Kingdom of Israel? Christians have anticipated the Great Tribulation and the end of this age, but have seldom considered what is on the other side of that Tribulation. Jews have considered what is on the other side, but have seldom considered that much of the nation of Israel would be coming from Christendom. And yet that is just what we are seeing today: the beginning of the reconstitution of Ephraim, largely through the awakening of Christians to their identity as Israelites based on the covenantal promises of YHVH and the redemptive work of Messiah Yeshua. The “Torah Awakening” is a major component of this process as Christians are beginning to realize that the entire Bible, including the Feasts of the Lord and the Sabbath (Shabbat), are still applicable to all of God’s people.
If this is so, then how far along is this restoration? Well, within the past year we have seen the Torah Awakening accelerate around the world, and we have seen people begin to identify themselves as Ephraimites in a very public way. That was the purpose of the First B’ney Yosef National Congress held in Israel in May 2015. The process has continued throughout the summer, and it promises to continue and expand in the coming months. That was the subject of a conversation on The Remnant Road, the Monday edition of the Hebrew Nation Morning Show. In a broadcast that aired on September 7, David Altman from the Alliance of Redeemed Israel (ARI) talked about the awakening of Believers to their identity as returning Israelites according to the promises of Scripture. The conversation started with developments since the Congress, and then covered ideas on how to strengthen the ties among individuals, congregations, and communities now identifying as Ephraimites. David also discussed the upcoming North American Ephraimite Summit, planned for March 4-6, 2016, in Orlando, FL. To listen to the broadcast and learn how you can get involved please click here.
Another perspective on this process comes from Ephraim Frank, a key organizer of the B’ney Yosef Congress. In a recent post on his blog, Etz B’ney Yosef, Ephraim provided some interesting and encouraging observations about what we are seeing even now.
Posted on Etz B’ney Yosef September 6, 2015
Shalom Fellow Israelite,
On 12th of May 1948 a decision on the name the newly formed State of Israel had to be voted on by ten council members. The choices were Yehuda, Tsyion, Tsabar, and Erets Yisrael. Most assumed that it would be Yehuda, but a divine harbinger manifested in a last minute suggestion by David Ben Gurion, and that was the name “Yisrael”. Seven of the council members voted for that name, which was a prophetic sign of the future return of all the tribes of Israel. The order of the restoration and return in Ezekiel 37 places Yehuda/Israel first, and thusly Yehuda’s dry stick became at that time a nation once again.
Perhaps you are not aware that also in 1948 a contest was held by the temporary government for a national emblem. One hundred and sixty-four individuals submitted 450 ideas. The one chosen, which the State of Israel adopted, on February 10th 1949, was designed by two brothers, Gabriel and Maxim Shamir. Their suggestion included the seven candle branch Menorah with two olive branches on each side. The final draft, however, did not totally resemble the brothers’ original design, as the committee decided to incorporate a few other features into it and changed the shape of the Menorah to the one depicted in the Arch of Titus (in Rome). The two olive branches which flank the Menorah, were meant as peace symbols, and only later were associated with Zechariah 4:11. I believe that this design was another harbinger of the restoration of the two sticks of Ezekiel 37:16.
In his book The Harbinger, Jonathan Cahn makes mention of the significance of trees in the Bible. He specifically notes the two cited in Isaiah 9:10 – the sycamore and the cedar, both in relationship to the 9/11 terror attack in New York, as being symbolic of judgments upon the United States. In an interview about his latest book, The Mystery of the Shemitah Unlocked, he noted how Shemitah years are associated with judgments and changes, both positive and negative. The rise and fall of nations in connection to Shemitah is one example he brings up in this book. Hence, if the USA is indeed spiraling down, and if that began in a Shemitah year (2001), what about the rise of the nation of Yehuda in 1917 (another Shemitah), or the reconstitution of the second stick/nation of Yosef/Ephraim in the current Shemitah? Is the latter also a harbinger of this eventuality, with the first Yehuda-Yosef “United 2 Restore” group marching in the Jerusalem Succot parade last year and then with the convening of the first B’ney Yosef National Congress on Shavuot? Is this the Shemitah year in which the second stick/nation of Joseph/Ephraim is beginning to bud? By the same token, should many of the harbingers of judgment be also interpreted positively, in that YHVH is going to bring back and restore the whole House of Israel? The branch of Yehuda in the national emblem is fully leafed, but what about the second branch in that national emblem, what should it look like at this time? Here is my rendition:
© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2014-2015. 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.
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)